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Man With Autism Says He Was Fired the Day After He Asked for Accommodations

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Robert Castleberry, a former 4-H instructor in Camden County, Georgia, is taking his former employers to court for terminating him in January 2015, after he disclosed he’s on the autism spectrum.

Castleberry says he asked for simple accommodations so he could focus on his work, requests which were denied. “The way the offices were set up at one part of the building, the walls were literally paper thin, you hear every conversation, every tap of keys,” Castleberry told First Coast News

According to the court documents, Castleberry requested time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act to “obtain psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment for his disability.” The request also suggested ways Camden County’s 4-H program could accommodate Castleberry, including “being allowed to work in an isolated area, opt out of social events, wear noise canceling headphones, be provided with instructions both verbally in in writing [and] be given more positive reinforcement.”

Castleberry was granted leave for a 30-minute time slot once per week to visit a counselor. However, on January 7, 2015, when he repeated his request for accommodations, the county denied them the next day. Castleberry was then placed on involuntary leave.

An evaluation from a psychologist selected by the county confirmed that Castleberry is on the spectrum and supported his changes to his work environment, stating that it “would be beneficial in dealing both his sensitivity to noise and his social anxiety related to Asperger’s.” Shortly after Castleberry presented this information and documentation to the county, he was terminated.

Camden County responded that it did not violate state or federal law and that it “denies that it violated any of Castleberry’s rights under state or federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents companies from discriminating on the basis of disability and requires companies to provide reasonable accommodations.

Castleberry told First Coast News he originally felt he belonged teaching at the 4-H program. “I could use my creativity in the classroom and I had this ‘Mr. Awesome’ personality,” he said. “Teachers were calling me ‘Mr. Awesome,’ teachers were calling me it, parents were calling me it… And I felt like I belonged and I did fit in.”

His evaluations from 2015 were also positive:

I think Robert does a fabulous job with the kids. He is always well prepared and the students love 4H days. He is full of enthusiasm for 4H and this is evident to the students.” and ““Mr. Castleberry interacts well with the students. He keeps their attention and makes 4H meetings enjoyable for them. They want to do their best when he is here. Mr. Castleberry comes prepared to conduct the meeting.

“People who have a disability deserve to work also,” Castleberry’s lawyer said. “They should have a normal life, they shouldn’t have their disability define them.”

Thinkstock image via KatarzynaBialasiewicz. 

Originally published: July 3, 2017
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