Former Seminole County principal sues, claiming discrimination because of her alcohol addiction

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CBS Miami | by Katie Johnston| January 12, 2021

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – A former high school principal has filed a lawsuit against a central Florida school district over allegations that she was wrongly removed from her job and discriminated against over her “alcohol dependency problem.”

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 4 in federal court in Orlando, Mary Williams seeks more than $30,000 in damages, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

The lawsuit argues the Seminole County school district discriminated against her because of her disability, which is her alcohol addiction, failed to abide by the federal Family Medical Leave Act and wrongly tried to dictate the treatment Williams would receive.

Williams was named principal of the year for Seminole County while at Hagerty High School in 2018.

Less than a year later, school district officials informed Williams she would not be rehired for the 2019-2020 school year, the newspaper reported.

Boyd Karns, the district’s top human resources administrator, told the newspaper he could not comment on the lawsuit. Williams attorney, Alfred Truesdell, said he had no comment beyond what was in the lawsuit.

The non-renewal letter provided no information as to why she was not being offered another yearly employment contract. She earned about $121,200 her last year on the job, the Sentinel reported.

Karns said Williams had no discipline letters or information in her employment file.

The lawsuit said Williams told district administrators in December 2018 that she had an alcohol dependency problem, and in February she spent time at a treatment facility.

According to the lawsuit, Williams returned to work on Feb. 19, attending a districtwide administrative meeting.

She had not taken any medication or had any alcohol that day, the lawsuit said.

But her supervisor told Williams to leave the meeting, the lawsuit said. The next day, the supervisor told Williams she could only return to school if a psychiatrist hired by the district deemed her fit for work.

The lawsuit claimed that the psychiatrist said Williams would only be cleared to return to work if she took monthly injections of Vivitrol, a medication used to treat alcohol dependence.

The lawsuit said Williams’ doctors and counselors did not want her to take that medication, partly because of potential side effects.

The lawsuit accuses the school district of abusing its authority by mandating a treatment program.

The lawsuit was first filed in September in Seminole Circuit Court but then moved this month to federal court for the U.S. Middle District of Florida at the school district’s request.

Photo: Mary Williams, third from left, was Seminole County’s principal of the year in 2018 when she led Hagerty High School. The district posted this photo on Facebook showing her celebrating with Seminole County School Board members, Superintendent Walt Griffin and the district’s assistant principal of the year for 2018. – Original Credit: Seminole County Public Schools posted at Orlando Sentinel (Courtesy photo)