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State panel finds evidence of discrimination against former Beaufort Co. schools employee

Island Packet - 9/28/2022

Sep. 28—BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. — There is evidence the Beaufort County School District forced an employee to resign in March 2021 due to his disability and gender, according to a determination by The State of Carolina Human Affairs Commission.

Qaadir Phillips, a former M.C. Riley Elementary School data specialist, has moderately severe asthma, a "qualified disability that made him at-risk of complications or death should he contract COVID-19," according to the commission.

Phillips was allowed to work from home during the pandemic in 2020, but the school district denied his request to work from home for the Spring 2021 semester, according to the determination issued Aug. 29.

Along with the determination, the commission provided a conciliation agreement for Phillips and the school district to consider. If they don't come to an agreement by Thursday, Sept. 29, the commission issues the right for Phillips to sue the school district.

In the April 2021 complaint that spurred the investigation, Phillips alleged he also faced racial and age discrimination. The commission found insufficient evidence to support this allegation.

Of the four data specialists who requested to work from home during the Spring 2021 semester, Phillips was the only male and the only person denied. Instead Phillips was given the options to either return to work or take family and medical leave.

Phillips began taking unpaid days off under the Family and Medical Leave Act in January 2021.

The other three data specialists who were allowed to continue working from home were women.

The school district couldn't offer an explanation why Phillips, "whose essential functions were identical to those of the three other data specialists, could not similarly perform his role remotely without causing an undue hardship," according to the determination.

The commission also found evidence that the school district retaliated against Phillips after his accommodation request and complaint.

The school district failed to inform Phillips of his eligibility for leave without pay until after he hired legal counsel. Until then, the district maintained that he resigned because Phillips said he couldn't return to work without accommodations after his FMLA ran out.

In the same email that informed Phillips of his eligibility for leave without pay, the school district implied that Phillips was being investigated for missing data from a database for which he was responsible. The school district had "scant and inconclusive evidence" linking Phillips to the missing data, according to the determination.

The commission determined these incidents amounted to intimidation and found "cause on the issue of retaliation."

Per policy, the Beaufort County School District does not discuss pending legal matters, Candace Bruder, a spokeswoman, told the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette.

Phillips' legal counsel also declined to comment.

This story was originally published September 28, 20228:33 AM.


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