MEMPHIS, Tenn.– In Memphis, it’s the latest salvo launched in the battle over an employee’s right to work virtually versus being in-person during the pandemic.
Former SCS teacher Harold Smith is suing the school board, accusing the district of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act because he can’t work from home.
In the lawsuit, attorneys for Smith say he worked for SCS for 24 years, the last few as assistant principal at Crump Elementary.
He had health problems and needed a heart and kidney transplant. Because of COVID, his doctor recommended he work virtually from home. For a few weeks, Smith was allowed to but he says he was forced to step down after SCS returned to in-person classes last year.
WREG spoke with Memphis labor attorney Alan Crone about workers and employers and who has the upper hand.
“Employment at will means employers have a lot of leeway in deciding the terms and conditions of employment and this is no exception,” Crone said. “Employees need to feel safe. They need to feel comfortable. They need to be heard and need be heard. Employers at the same time have more of a global responsibility to their employees and into their bottom line.”
Keith Williams with the Shelby County Education Association said in this case the school district should provide options for its employees, meaning they can work virtually or in-person.
“I think the hardline that we’ve taken, no virtual school is not going to work,” he said. “But if we do 50 percent, 10 percent that works and that probably satisfies folks like this teacher who’s filing a lawsuit. They cannot compromise their life, liberty going into the buildings, if they know given the medical advice of the comorbidities.”
For now, the rights of a former teacher versus SCS could be played out in court.
The former teacher is asking a jury to compensate him for lost wages and benefits.
WREG reached out to SCS for a comment on Friday. A representative with SCS said they are aware of the lawsuit but do not comment on pending litigation as part of district protocol.