Five months ago, a former employee sued Collin College, claiming retaliation and disability discrimination. Now, another one has followed suit.
Last week, Randy Jackson, who served as an associate dean of academics at Collin College, filed a lawsuit against the school. He alleges that he was denied reasonable accommodations amid the pandemic in violation of Texas labor laws.
Jackson joins several other educators who have accused Collin College of firing them over their stances on COVID-19.
Starting in mid-March 2020, all Collin College staff worked remotely because of the pandemic, according to the filing. But as of that June, employees were informed they could return to in-person work thanks to the rollout of certain safety policies and protective equipment.
Jackson has health issues, including Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and a history of colon cancer, making him especially vulnerable to a severe case of COVID-19. He was initially allowed to continue working from home but learned in August 2020 that his employer expected him to return to campus, according to court documents.
A doctor recommended that Jackson should keep working remotely, and his health took a turn for the worse, the lawsuit continues. Still, the college denied his request for accommodations.
The lawsuit alleges that Jackson was not given unpaid leave, even though the school’s policy provides for it. He was also “fired” just one day ahead of his eligibility for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, documents show.
Meanwhile, the school’s new virtual campus posted a near-identical remote job opening. “Nothing was ever relayed to [Jackson] about this position,” the suit continues.
On top of other demands, Jackson is asking for damages and back pay.
Jackson referred a request for comment to his attorney, Matthew R. Scott, who in turn said the lawsuit exposes how Collin College treats people with disabilities.
“So many people are still working remotely two years after the start of this pandemic,” Scott said by email. “Many schools were still remote learning at this time. There was no reason to deny his request other than hostility toward my client and other persons with disabilities."
In an email, a Collin College spokesperson confirmed Jackson's termination. "The college looks forward to defending the allegations and claims in court," the spokesperson said. "Out of respect for the privacy of our former employee and his current or future employment, the college will not continue to publicly comment on this personnel matter."
After news of Jackson’s lawsuit broke, some current and former professors condemned Collin College for what they see as a violation of anti-discrimination laws.
“At Collin College, the cruelty is the point.” – Dr. Lora Burnett, former Collin College history professor
Last year, former history professor Lora Burnett sued the school, alleging it had violated her constitutional rights. In January, her former employer agreed to pay her $70,000 plus attorneys’ fees.
“well. @collincollege refused accommodations, revoked previously approved accommodations, and then fired this employee ONE DAY before he was eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act,” Burnett said in a tweet last week. “At Collin College, the cruelty is the point.”
well. @collincollege refused accommodations, revoked previously approved accommodations, and then fired this employee ONE DAY before he was eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.— L.D. Burnett (@LDBurnett) April 9, 2022
At Collin College, the cruelty is the point. pic.twitter.com/yFaSjzg4KT
Collin College President Neil Matkin previously came under fire for doubting the efficacy of masks and claiming the pandemic had been “blown utterly out of proportion.”
History professor Michael Phillips is locked in his own legal dispute with Collin College. The way he sees it, this latest court battle further raises questions about the college’s priorities and how important or expendable administrators think employees are.
“[Jackson] had to choose between risking his life and keeping his job,” Phillips said. “What kind of choice is that to give people?”
But Jackson isn’t alone. Phillips said he now knows of four people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, for reasons including recommending mask usage and criticizing the school’s coronavirus policies.
Further underscoring the school’s discrimination battles is that in one of its buildings, a button that’s supposed to open a door has been broken for months, Phillips said. Without it, people with disabilities could have an even harder time navigating campus.
Although Phillips said there's now a sign indicating the button is inoperative, he's concerned by how long it’s taken to fix, especially given that he's seen an administrator walk through that door. As a diabetic, he feels a connection with the rest of the community with disabilities.
“That really struck me,” he said. “I go through that door all the time … and every time I see that, I get angry that there’s not been more of a priority to find a way to fix that.”