Bethlehem, Pennsylvania - A former employee at a southeastern Pennsylvania vocational high school claims she was fired after she raised concerns about whether staff and students were exposed to asbestos during the renovation of a home owned by the school.
According to an article in The Express Times, Sheila A. Wood, a former technology specialist at the Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical High School, was suspended without pay in August 2010 and then fired about three months later. School administration says Wood lost her job because of poor performance. Wood, however, says she was let go because she was too outspoken about a situation that may have resulted in exposure to asbestos for a number of staff and students. She’s now filing a lawsuit claiming her termination was unwarranted.
Wood’s concerns were related to a remodeling job on a school-owned home, completed by at least two teachers and several vo-tech students in 2009. The home contained asbestos, says Wood, and an independent investigation determined that the school knew of the asbestos exposure but did little to remedy the situation.
The article notes that adminstrators tried to take actions to address the asbestos but “failed for many reasons.” They did not post warning signs nor did they keep people out of the house, even after they became aware of the presence of the asbestos materials. Wood notes in the lawsuit that there are also unaddressed asbestos concerns on the school’s campus. Exposure to toxic asbestos materials can cause serious respiratory problems, including the development of diseases such as asbestosis and pleural mesothelioma.
Wood and a colleague then spoke out at joint operating committee meetings at the school, voicing their concerns for fellow staff members and the students they were supervising. In return, Wood was awarded with “severe” disciplinary actions and her job duties were “significantly altered”, notes the article.
“Her access to equipment was restricted, she didn't have a master key crucial to her job and she was given inferior equipment,” the suit states. “In short, (she) was set up to fail.”
The school has called the lawsuit “unfortunate and unnecessary”.
Wood is seeking punitive damages and a jury trial.