A U.S. district court judge ruled that Kutztown University psychology professor Stephen Oross III, who underwent a heart transplant during the COVID-19 pandemic, should have been allowed to continue teaching remotely even after the university resumed in-person classes, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
In the fall of 2021, roughly six months after his heart transplant, Oross requested an accommodation to teach online under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The university denied his request—along with those of three other professors—prompting Oross to take an unpaid leave of absence for the semester.
“Instead of showing compassion to a valued tenured professor, who, despite having recently underwent a heart transplant and was trying with ‘all his might to return to campus’ for the Fall 2021 Semester, the university showed callous indifference by refusing to consider Professor Oross’s individual circumstances as the law required,” wrote the judge, Jeffrey L. Schmehl.
Damages are not allowed under the law in question, but Oross is asking the judge to reconsider. Oross’s lawyer, Lorrie McKinley, told the Inquirer that her client is entitled to back pay.
“There are some people foreclosed from having a job just because they can’t access the workplace,” she said. “But they are qualified to do the work. We have to start understanding remote work accommodations as something like a virtual ramp.”
A Kutztown spokesperson told the newspaper that the university’s lawyers were reviewing the judge’s decision.
Oross said he hopes the judge’s ruling “translates into assistance for other faculty members who have been denied accommodations, some of whom have also sued.”