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School Board of Nassau County v. Arline

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1. Do you agree with the Court's decision? Why or why not? Would your answer change if the contagious disease was AIDS or HIV? Explain.

2. If it is shown that Arline could perform some other function in the school system besides teaching, and contact with others was not as prevalent as in the classroom, would you allow her to stay on? Discuss.

3. Do you think there is adequate protection of both the employee and the public in this case? What should the courts do to diminish discrimination against the disabled built upon myth and misconceptions? references/citations

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1 I agree with the Court's decision. Tuberculosis was such an ailment that created a record of impairment on the patient's major life activities. In short it meant that the disease's physical effects impaired the patient's ability to work. Gene Arline was fired by the Nassau County when it became clear that her illness was recurrent. Tuberculosis did not allow Gene to perform her duties as an elementary school teacher. The disease was disabling. The evidence is that Nassau County dismissed her. There is no reason to believe that Gene Arline was not handicapped. Tuberculosis handicapped her from performing her duties to the point that she was dismissed from the school.

My answer would partly change if the contagious disease was AIDS or HIV. ...

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Analysis of School Board of Nassau County V. Arline

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The Supreme Court ruling in this case appears appropriate given the impact it may have on future cases; that is, the decision seems just as much about setting precedent for future discrimination cases involving communicable diseases as it is about reaching an objective decision for this one specific case. The justices had the foresight to determine that the need to eliminate workplace discrimination outweighs the potential for individuals to catch a communicable disease from their co-worker and is demonstrated in the opinion by the statement, "We do not agree with the petitioners that, in defining a handicapped individual under §504, the contagious effects of a disease can be meaningfully distinguished from the disease's physical effects on a claimant in a case such as this. It would be unfair to allow an employer to seize upon the distinction between the effects of a disease on others and the effects of a disease on a patient and use that distinction to justify discriminatory treatment (School Board of Nassau County V. Arline)." This is very powerful language as it warns employers that discrimination isn't justifiable using the excuse that an employee may be putting another in jeopardy with their potential contagion and is not adequate grounds for removal.

If you play out the two situations (legalizing discrimination for infectious disease versus disallowing discrimination regardless of the possibility for infection) it's clear that the former has a less drastic impact on the public as a whole. Namely, having a contagious disease does not guarantee the spread of that disease and appropriate steps can be taken by the employer to protect its staff. The employee can be reassigned to a lower profile position, or granted leave for the duration of the sickness. Each of these outcomes is better than giving employers a free pass to disqualify someone from employment. This second scenario would be inconsistent with the bases purpose [of the Act], which is to ensure the handicapped individuals are not denied jobs or other benefits because of the prejudiced attitudes or the ignorance of others (School Board of Nassau County V. Arline).

A situation wherein HIV or AIDS was Arline's disease would only support my previous answer. Because HIV and AIDS are transferred through bodily fluids, there is little reason to think that Arline would endanger her coworkers during the course of her employment. In fact, since the public has become more aware of HIV, the courts have ruled that removing an employee based strictly on the disease qualifies as discrimination. Recently, a Manhattan employer lost a discrimination lawsuit when it terminated an employee who divulged he had been diagnosed with HIV and could no longer work the evening shift. The jury awarded the former employee $185,000 in compensatory damages and $347,500 in punitive damages (McCoy, 2014).

Although I believe the correct decision was made in this case, I don't believe the public was adequately protected. Tuberculosis appears to be both a highly contagious and potentially deadline disease that is spread fairly easily. While it's always important to protect the rights of employees not to be discriminated against, this shouldn't come at the cost of exposing the public to deadly diseases. It would be incredibly difficult to explain to the parent of a child in Arline's class that their son or daughter had contracted a disease as a result of the school's inability to remove the infected teacher; even if the court's decision protect thousands of people down-the-road from needless discrimination. Perhaps the ruling in the case was based on the utilitarian belief that the needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few.

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