High school hallway. Photo via Pixabay.

A 59-year-old former charter school special education support staff member who sued her ex-employer, alleging she was wrongfully laid off in 2019 — in part for taking time off to care for her handicapped son — says in new court papers that she took her job seriously and went beyond the call of duty.

Plaintiff Denise Esther Resendez, who also alleges her age and Latino ethnicity played roles in her termination, says in a sworn declaration submitted in opposition to a defense motion to dismiss her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit that she typically arrived at 7 a.m. to her job at Ivy Academia Charter School and didn’t leave until about 3:30 p.m.

“I loved my job as a paraprofessional at Ivy Academia and took on job responsibilities that were outside my duties as a paraprofessional,” Resendez says. “This included volunteering with handing out school provided breakfast in the morning before school started, and working with teachers in after school programs like (the) homework club.”

Resendez worked for the district for more than seven years as a special education paraprofessional after being hired in March 2012 and performed her job well, according to her suit filed in March 2020.

Ivy Academia has students in kindergarten through grade 12 and the school is a co-defendant in the case along with it’s elementary school principal, Jennifer Lyons.

According to the suit, Resendez’s son had a hiking accident in August 2017 in which he lost his footing and fell from a 27-foot cliff. He survived, but had to have multiple surgeries and Resendez needed one to two days of leave a month in 2017-18 to care for him and take him to medical appointments, the suit states.

Resendez provided Lyons with a note from her son’s doctor that said her child was wheelchair-bound and needed help bathing and using the restroom, the suit states. Resendez administered daily blood thinner injections to her son, according to the suit.

Throughout the school year, Lyons showed an “unprofessional demeanor” when Resendez updated her about her son, once mockingly asking, “Oh, what is it this time? I thought he didn’t need any more surgeries,* the suit states.

Lyons’ comments escalated in February 2018 when, in retaliation for taking time off to care for her son, the principal said, “I thought your son jumped off a mountain,” implying he tried to take his own life, the suit states.

In March 2019, Resendez suffered a knee injury after tripping over a golf cart charging cord at Ivy School, the suit states. No one at the school offered to help her and she had to drive herself to an urgent care facility, where she was diagnosed with a sprained knee and allowed to return to work with restrictions, the suit states.

“That same month, in retaliation for taking time off to care for her son and because she had a disability, Lyons told Resendez, “You need to get off the cane because it makes you look older than you are,” according to the suit.

Resendez was laid off in June 6, 2019, after being told about two weeks earlier that there was not “enough room” on the staff for her for the 2019-20 school year, the suit states.

In their court papes filed Nov. 4 seeking dismissal of Resendez’s case, Ivy Academia lawyers deny any wrongdoing on the part of their school.

“Upon review of the enrollment for the 2019-2020 academic year of special education elementary students, Ivy determined that there was no longer a need for Resendez’ elementary paraprofessional service,” the school’s attorneys state in their court papers.

When Resendez’ son was injured, the school immediately approved all of her requested time off requests and showed compassion, the school’s attorneys further state in their court papers. When Resendez herself was hurt, she was granted work restrictions and her workers compensation claim was resolved, according to the court papers of the school’s lawyers.

But in her declaration, Resendez denies that all of her needed accommodations for her injury were provided.

“It was hard for me to walk upstairs because of my knee and my walking cane,” Resendez says. “In most of the classrooms I attended, no chair was provided to me, so I had to stand the whole session and kneel to work with my students. This could last anywhere from an hour to two hours, depending on how long my session was with my students.”

Resendez said she addressed her concerns with Lyons, but that the principal answered, “OK,” and never discussed the issue with her again.

“I knew the request was reasonable because there were plenty of classrooms closer in distance where my students could meet me,” Resendez says.

Resendez further says the school administration never advised her she had the option of taking family leave.

“My impression was that I was required to work and was not allowed to take a medical leave for my medical issues or my son’s medical issues,” Resendez says.

Ivy Academia’s motion to dismiss Rescendez’s suit is scheduled for hearing on Feb. 22 before Judge Richard L. Fruin.

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