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Staffer claims wrongful firing

Last modified: 7/18/2012 12:00:00 AM
A former SAU 34 employee has sued her former employer, alleging that she was fired in 2009 because she was seen as an expense and a liability after she injured her back at work.

Maureen Berger worked in the Hillsboro-Deering School District from 1989 until 2009, when she lost her job as executive assistant to the superintendent. She filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in Hillsborough County Superior Court in November.

Beginning in 2008, Berger required a cane to walk due to a back condition, her lawsuit states. She had back surgery in 2006 and injured her back twice in 2007 in incidents unrelated to work.

In October 2008, Berger was walking into a classroom to teach a computer class at Hillsboro-Deering High School when her cane went into an uncovered electrical outlet on the floor, causing her to lose her balance and injure herself, according to the lawsuit.

Berger was on leave from work following the incident, and her claim for workers' compensation benefits was denied, according to court documents. School officials told her in December 2008 that she had used all of her available leave time, SAU 34 states in court documents. In January 2009, school officials told Berger that if she was not cleared to work after her next doctor's appointment, she would lose her job.

After her doctor said she could return 'on a gradual plan to full employment,' Berger received a letter from then-Superintendent Barbara Baker, terminating her employment in March 2009, according to the lawsuit.

Berger's lawsuit alleges the school district told her she was a ' 'drag' on the SAU and that she was a reason insurance premiums were going sky high.'

SAU 34 denies Berger's claims, stating in court documents that she lost her job because she was unable to return to work fulltime, as the position required. School officials offered Berger a different, part-time position when she was terminated, according to court documents, and she declined their offer.

The SAU states in court documents that its 'decision to terminate Ms. Berger was for bona fide business reasons and was not torturous.'

Berger had previously been granted unpaid medical leave in 2007 and received long-term disability benefits from September 2007 until she returned to work fulltime in July 2008, according to court documents.

According to her lawsuit, school officials acknowledged that Berger's 2008 workers' compensation claim would have impacted future insurance premiums. She also accuses the school district of wanting to replace her 'with a person who did not have any physical impairments and would work for less money.' SAU 34 denies that claim in court documents.

She is seeking compensation for wrongful termination and breach of contract. Her husband, Richard Berger, also claims the loss of his wife's job caused him to suffer because he relied on her income.

The attorney representing SAU 34 could not be reached for comment, and SAU 34 school board Chairman Rich Pelletier said he is unable to comment on pending lawsuits. James Craig, the Manchester attorney representing Berger, declined to comment this week.

Berger's lawsuit requested a jury trial, which is scheduled to begin next April in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)


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