TOPEKA — Washburn University officials required Professor Leslie Reynard to teach in a room illuminated by fluorescent light despite knowing she had a neurological disability triggered by that type of light, she said in a six-count federal lawsuit filed last week against the university.
The suit was the second filed against Washburn this year by Reynard, described in the lawsuit petition as "a woman over 40," who continues to pursue a separate, one-count federal suit filed Feb. 18 seeking damages in excess of $75,000. A hearing is set for Aug. 15 to schedule future court proceedings in that case, in which Reynard claims she was retaliated against after filing a gender discrimination complaint.
In the second suit filed July 18, Reynard seeks damages in excess of $75,000 on one count each of disability discrimination, gender discrimination, age discrimination, breach of contract, maintaining a hostile and abusive working environment and retaliation for engaging in protected activities in violation of the Age in Discrimination Employment Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
University counsel wasn’t aware of the lawsuit and therefore has no comment, Washburn spokesman Patrick Early said Thursday.
Reynard teaches in the communications department at Washburn, where she has been an employee since 2007, according to last week's lawsuit complaint.
It said that after she was required in mid-August 2018 to teach in a basement room at Henderson Hall illuminated by fluorescent light, she suffered a "trans-ischemic attack."
"Plaintiff dismissed the class early, made her way back to her office, took medication that had managed the condition in the past and had to lie down on her office floor until the TIA passed and her vision returned," the complaint said.
Not until mid-October 2018 did Washburn provide Reynard with accommodation for a disability that the university "was aware of and informally had been accommodating for over 10 years," the petition said.
It said another communications department faculty member, who is a man, had asked for a different classroom and was moved to a different room "almost immediately."
The petition added that after Reynard was assigned to teach a summer course and another professor asked if she would allow him to teach it instead, she declined while saying she needed the income and adding that she "could be dead by then."
The other professor replied, "Well that would be too bad, but it would certainly solve a lot of problems," the petition said.
It said Reynard brought that to the attention of her department chairwoman, who responded, "That's terrible."
Still, to Renard's knowledge, "no admonishment or other effort to create a more hospitable workplace took place," the petition said.