Man sues school district for wrongful termination

Originally appeared in Silent News, October 2001.

“I feel it’s destroyed my life. I feel miserable and hurt, I liked my job,” Ken Cruise, Jr. says. “I feel intimidated by hearing people.”

Cruise, 39, was employed as a media technology specialist, covering three elementary schools in the Silver Lake Regional District in Plymouth County, Mass. He was hired on a probationary basis in January 2000 with the understanding that he would become a permanent employee after one school term. He was told he was “doing a good job” and given a $1, 400 salary raise in October 2000.

Cruise then was notified that his contract was being terminated on June 12, 2001. Cruise, stunned by this decision, was not given a reason for his termination. He had been given no performance evaluations, nor did he receive any negative feedback.

However, the apparent reason began to soon emerge. A senior teacher at one of the three elementary schools said in an affidavit that she overheard the school principal, Paul Kellogg, say, “sarcastically, words to the effects that it took him too much time to explain to Ken what he wanted done.”

Cruise is deaf, and blind in one eye. He communicates using sign language and lip-reading. When he was first hired, the schools did not initially know he was deaf and blind in one eye, though Paul Squarcia, the school superintendent at the time, had known. In an affidavit dated June 23, 2001, he said, “I was aware that Mr. Cruise was hearing challenged and that he was a lipreader.”

Squarcia retired on Dec. 1, 2000. In the affidavit, he continued, “…just prior to that date, I spoke with a number of school department personnel concerning Mr. Cruise’s work, and they were satisfied with his work.”

The senior teacher said, “In my opinion, based on my direct experiences with Ken, I consider him to be the best technician I ever worked with in the school system.”

Petitions were submitted to the Pembroke School Committee from all three schools protesting Cruise’s “sudden dismissal,” signed by over 70 teachers and staff.

Cruise also found that his position was advertised on May 8, though he was not notified of his dismissal until May 11.

The dismissal has taken its toll on Cruise. A licensed mental health counselor said in a letter that Cruise is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and has been deeply affected by his sudden dismissal.

Gerald V. McKenna, the counselor, wrote in a letter to the court saying, “In short, many of the beliefs that Mr. Cruise held about security and his value have been negated by the series of trauma he has experienced. There has been significant damage done to his self confidence, his self esteem has been severely damaged, and his self imagine has been reduced to the lowest level.”

Cruise, who is represented by attorney Evans J. Carter, says that he had a hard time finding a job prior to this one, due to his deafness. “Seeking for a job for the deaf is not easy,” he says. He hopes that the case will enable him to get his job back, or at least pay him for the damages he has suffered.

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