I just love it when we see a great victory such as in this case for mold victims. It goes to show that when we fight back against a system and society that seems to be hell bent on proving us wrong and/or crazy, that we can win the battle. This case proves that not only can some of us win the fight, we can also be generously compensated for our mold related illnesses due to water damaged buildings that we live or work in.
This breaking news story is about a band teacher in New Jersey, Jean Alsina, who went to work for the Millburn Middle School as the band director, and within a month of being on the job, she became ill, and was subsequently diagnosed with a lung disease called adult-onset asthma that was a result of working in the mold-infested middle school band room, according to the court decision.
Alsina decided to perform a mold test on the band room which came back positive for various types of mold. She presented the evidence to school officials who refused to reassign Alisna to a safer environment, and instead they retaliated against her.
On April 18, a Superior Court Judge found in favor of Mary Jean Alsina’s 2013 claims of malfeasance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and Worker’s Compensation discrimination following her complaints starting in 2012 about air quality in the classroom, according to NewJersey.com.
The court had awarded $1.63 million in lost wages, $150,000 for her lung disease acquired as a result of working in the room, $50,000 in punitive damages, and another $50,000 for past emotional distress. The judge also ordered the school district to pay Alsina’s attorney and expert fees, the amounts of which have yet to be calculated.
“It’s a vindication for my client, who to her own detriment, reached out and continued to complain despite adverse consequences,” Alsina’s attorney, Gina Mendola Longarzo, told The Item. “It’s because she was concerned for her students.”
Alsina became ill and was subsequently diagnosed with adult-onset asthma after a month of working in the mold-infested middle school band room, according to the decision. The school district refused to accommodate Alsina with a full-time assignment outside of the band room and retaliated against her when she tested the room for mold and then brought her findings to the attention of school district administrators and, later, parents, the court document said.
Schools Business Administrator Steven DiGeronimo said on Friday, the district does not comment on pending litigation. James Bartletti, the attorney representing the district in the case, did not return a phone message from The Item seeking comment on the verdict.
In 2011, the district assigned Alsina to work in room 102, (aka) the Brass Cave, which had a “damp and musty smell,” the decision stated. Photos provided to the court “show water damage, seepage and rust discoloration on walls,” the judge wrote.
The photos also detail garbage cans collecting water dripping from ceilings, stained ceiling tiles with black areas, dirty and corroded air vents, “areas of irregularly shaped spots of black, mold-like substance of walls and floors and paint peeling from brick,” the judge wrote.
“After a month of teaching in the room, (the) plaintiff began to be ill on a regular basis and suddenly began to suffer from recurring headaches, body aches, joint pain, chest pain, wheezing, shortness of breath, sinus infections and persistent coughing for which she sought treatment from a pulmonologist in February 2012,” the decision said.
In March of 2012, Alsina reported the mold problem to her supervisor, district Director of Music John Leahey, according to the decision. She also told building administrators and spoke with fellow teachers about the matter, the judge said.
In April 2012, the Board of Education positively tested the area for mold, then had janitors clean it with chlorine and remove some of the stained ceiling tiles, the decision stated.
Not feeling the district’s response was adequate, Alsina reported the matter to state Department of Health’s Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program (PEOSH) later that month, according to the decision.
An expert in occupational medicine testified that the district’s remediation was contrary to state and federal standards. The expert further stated that the use of chlorine threatened the respiratory health of children and teachers in the room.
As a result of her illness and whistle-blowing activities, Alsina claimed, district officials forced her to work a reduced schedule under which she was paid less and lost her health benefits.
Citing taped conversations with school administrators, the decision said, upper management authorized and directed Leahey to effectively demote Alsina and give her work that he referred to as “bull****” following her efforts to have the band room properly remediated for mold.
The work for the tenured music teacher included data entry and forcing her to “lug books a distance” despite her asthma, the decision said.
“The management of the district, from the superintendent down to the plaintiff’s direct supervisor, brought everything in their power to bear down on (the) plaintiff in an attempt to compel her silence about both the conditions of the building and her disability,” Farrington wrote.
In addition, then Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield refused Alsina’s worker’s compensation claim in connection with her respiratory illness without properly investigating it, the judge wrote.