Teacher who suffered traumatic brain injury alleges school fired him over disability

Teacher William Cook accused Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart of violating the state’s law against discrimination and retaliation when it fired him in 2018.

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By Minyvonne Burke

A teacher at a private New Jersey boys' school claims he was fired because of a disability stemming from a traumatic brain injury.

Teacher William Cook filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Superior Court of Mercer County against Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, alleging the school violated the state’s law against discrimination and retaliation when he was terminated in May 2018.

Cook, of Trenton, suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2008 and as a result suffers from light sensitivity, extreme fatigue and sudden loss of consciousness, according to the lawsuit that was first reported by NJ.com.

In June 2015, Cook was hired as a fourth-grade math and science teacher at the private K-8 school in Princeton, about 12 miles northeast of Trenton.

Shortly after he began working at the school, Cook informed his supervisor of his traumatic brain injury, the suit states.

The disability prevents Cook from "performing some daily life activities at times" but while he was employed at Princeton Academy he carried out his job duties "at an exemplary level," the lawsuit states.

Cook faced "constant discriminatory treatment" by his supervisor, including his being questioned both privately and in public on whether he really had a disability, according to the suit.

During one incident at a faculty retreat, Cook's supervisor told staff that Cook was making up his disability to use as an excuse. The lawsuit also outlines what Cook says was unfair treatment and being held to a different standard than his colleagues.

On two occasions, Cook was either late or could not show up for work after losing consciousness. The lawsuit says that he was disciplined both times even though he provided the school with a detailed report written by his doctor and had asked for reasonable accommodations.

The supervisor "would berate [Cook] for his actions, yet would permit those same actions by non-disabled faculty members," the suit states.

In May 2018, Cook was notified that Princeton Academy would not renew his contract and was terminating him. The suit alleges that he was fired because of his disability and "in retaliation for requesting reasonable accommodations."

Cook is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and back pay.

Princeton Academy could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.