Ex-drug addict claims hiring bias in $1.2 million school board suit

October 05, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

A Severna Park man has sued the Anne Arundel County Board of Education for $1.2 million, claiming the school system violated two federal civil rights laws by refusing to hire him as a music teacher after he revealed past problems with drug abuse.

In his lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Gino Mezzapelle contends he admitted in an interview with a personnel worker that he had been addicted to marijuana and arrested for possession.

He also said that he had successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program and remained free of drugs.

Mr. Mezzapelle holds a Maryland teaching certificate, and had worked for the Baltimore public school system until his two arrests for possessing marijuana during the 1992-1993 school year -- including one on school premises -- that resulted in his dismissal, court records show.

Specifically, the suit charges the Anne Arundel school system with violating the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act by not hiring Mr. Mezzapelle because of his disability as "a recovering drug addict."

The act states that an employer may not discriminate against a former drug addict who has participated in a rehabilitation program and no longer uses drugs, despite having a history of drug use and abuse.

The suit, filed in late September, also contends the Anne Arundel schools system, by its refusal to hire Mr. Mezzapelle as a substitute or full-time teacher, violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a law that funnels federal funds to schools.

Mr. Mezzapelle referred a reporter to his Glen Burnie lawyer, Michael D. Carlis, for comment yesterday. Mr. Carlis could not be reached.

The suit names as defendants the Anne Arundel County Board of Education, the eight-member school board, and Superintendent Carol S. Parham.

P. Tyson Bennett, a lawyer for the Board of Education, also could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The suit was Mr. Mezzapelle's second challenge to the county school system.

A complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was denied in June. The commission ruled that "there is no evidence to support [Mr. Mezzapelle's] allegation that he was not hired because of his disability," according to an exhibit filed with the suit.

The commission finding noted that Mr. Mezzapelle had been in drug treatment for just four months prior to applying in September 1993 to be a substitute teacher.

In issuing the ruling, Issie L. Jenkins, the EEOC's district director, wrote that although the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against drug addicts, the school system "had reason to question" Mr. Mezzapelle's "rehabilitation and fitness to teach children since he had only been in treatment less than five months."

Mr. Mezzapelle, in taking his complaint to the federal court, asked that the school system be ordered to hire him.

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