CHARLESTON – A woman with acute asthma sued the West Virginia Department of Education and Arts (WVDEA) after the state allegedly failed to accommodate her disability.

Shirley L. Burns filed a lawsuit on Jan 7 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the WVDEA over what she claims was a violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act (WVHRA).

Burns was employed by the WVDEA as an architectural historian for the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for eight years beginning in 2006. Her duties included writing, editing and proofreading.

In March 2013, Burns alleges that she was diagnosed with bronchial asthma and had a series of acute asthma attacks, which placed her under disability. On Aug. 16, 2013, she allegedly submitted a request for reasonable medical accommodation on the grounds of disability to her employer. The request allegedly included allowing her to perform editing and proofreading task at home.

Randall Reid-Smith, commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, allegedly acknowledged receipt of Burns request and forwarded her a medical release form on Sept. 9, 2013. Burns allegedly sent her employer a detailed medical statement on Sept. 18, 2013; and had her physician advise her employer about her condition, stating that strenuous physical activity and exposure to certain chemicals and allergens would exacerbate her condition. The physician also allegedly told her employer that her ailments would not affect her job performance.

On Jan. 14, 2014, there was a venting defect that allowed contaminated water to leak into the preservation office, causing Burns to develop a severe and acute asthmatic attack for which she allegedly had to go to the emergency room. Burns claims she was required to remain at home as a result of the attack.

Meanwhile, Burns alleges that no action was taken on her initial request. As a result,  Burns involuntarily resigned on March 11, 2014 due to her request allegedly being ignored. Burns insists that at all times her job performance had been stellar.

Burns is suing for actual, special, compensatory and punitive damages; attorney fees; interest; court costs; and any other rewards deemed just by the court. She is seeking a jury trial and is represented by William V. DePaulo in Lewisburg. Judge Louis H. Bloom is hearing the case.

Kanawha Circuit Court Case number 16-C-10

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