AUSTIN (CN) - A public school teacher was hospitalized and fired because his school district refused to accommodate his bipolar disorder by painting his classroom yellow, for its "calming presence," the man claims in court.
Lieu Tran sued the Pflugerville Independent School District in Federal Court.
Tran claims that from 2006 to 2010, when he was allowed to work in a yellow room, he exceeded expectations in several areas of evaluation at Connelly High School.
But after that, he claims, "the district showed not just a disregard, but an active indifference to Mr. Tran's disability and medical diagnosis, as well as the effects of the district's behavior on Mr. Tran. Despite receiving various documentation and complaints regarding the effect of the district's conduct on Mr. Tran, the district's indifference persisted. The district repeatedly participated in conduct that was clearly harmful to Mr. Tran's mental and physical health."
Trans says he requested yellow walls not for a "mere aesthetic purpose," but because they are a "calming presence" for him.
"Mr. Tran is an individual with a disability, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety," the complaint states. He says his initial accommodations included having his own printer and a schedule in which he had a classroom to himself during certain periods.
In anticipation of being moved to a new classroom before the 2010-2011 school year, Tran asked for the accommodations again. He says he encountered opposition and hostility.
In September 2010, his doctor provided the school with a letter explaining how having his own printer in his classroom would benefit him.
"Despite receiving this information, the school still fought with Mr. Tran about installing a printer in his classroom," the complaint states. "The school finally agreed to install a printer ... but not until Mr. Tran's attorney sent the school a demand letter."
Trans claims his request to have the walls painted yellow were approved in January 2011 - but no one painted the walls. And he says another teacher used his classroom despite his request to have the classroom to himself.
"By this time, Mr. Tran was beginning to experience the effects of not having his past accommodations," the complaint states. "Mr. Tran began to feel heightened stress, which led to more frequent panic attacks, as well as stuttering when speaking."
He claims the school district was aware of this, and documented incidents if his stress and anger, resulting in negative performance evaluations for the new school year.
In March 2011, he was told his employment contract would not be renewed.
"Around this same time, Mr. Tran's psychiatrist noticed that Mr. Tran 'had a recent exacerbation of his mood symptoms' and had within the last several weeks had 'mood cycling and suicidal thoughts," the complaint states. "The stress of not having his accommodations and losing his job was overwhelming and Mr. Tran was ultimately hospitalized due to his intense psychiatric thoughts and feelings."
One month later, Tran told a friend, Mr. Thompson, "that he was having thoughts of harming his Principal and Vice-Principal, by shooting them and then taking his own life," the complaint states. "Mr. Thompson verified with Mr. Tran that Mr. Tran was trying to articulate that he needed professional help and hospitalization because he was afraid of what he might do otherwise. Mr. Tran reiterated to Mr. Thompson that he needed to be taken to a hospital. Due to Mr. Tran's forthrightness about his psychological condition, Mr. Thompson took Mr. Tran to Shoal Creek Hospital."
The complaint adds: "Aware of his mental condition and need for hospitalization, Mr. Tran had arranged to have a substitute for his classes.
"Despite Mr. Tran being upfront about his ideations, and despite the lack of imminent harm, a nurse called Austin Police Department in response to Mr. Tran's previous comment involving his school's principals. Two Austin police officers, one of which was a mental health officer, interviewed and officially admitted Mr. Tran into Shoal Creek."
Tran says he was later banned from school grounds and was to be reported to police if seen on the premises. He says he fears retaliation for the rest of his teaching career, as he will need referrals and letters of recommendation.
Pflugerville I.S.D. covers 95 square miles in the central Texas cities of Austin, Pflugerville, Coupland, Hutto, Manor and Round Rock.
Tran seeks damages for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
He is represented by Martin Cirkiel of Round Rock.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.