KEARNEY, Neb. — A longtime University of Nebraska at Kearney professor who has muscular dystrophy has sued the university and the NU Board of Regents, claiming they violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Beth A. Wiersma has filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Lincoln and Buffalo County District Court.
In the lawsuits, Wiersma accuses UNK and the regents of restricting her from her office and other parts of the UNK campus and of ultimately harassing her and pressuring her to resign as chairwoman of her department.
Wiersma is an associate professor of criminal justice and social work at UNK and is teaching three classes this semester.
Wiersma was hired in August 2001. In December 2001, she was diagnosed with polymyositis, and the diagnosis was revised to muscular dystrophy in 2007.
From August 2010 to July 2012, Wiersma was the interim chairwoman of UNK’s criminal justice department and later she became its chairwoman. In spring 2012, Wiersma applied to become chairwoman for a five-year term.
The lawsuit alleges that John La Duke, dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences, asked Wiersma’s colleagues about her health. However, Wiersma says, university officials had been aware of her disability before that.
The lawsuit also contends that beginning in 2008, the university delayed making accommodations for Wiersma including providing and enforcing handicapped parking, building an access ramp to Founders Hall, where her office is located; providing an adjustable chair to allow her to stand and sit; and making the restrooms in her building handicapped-accessible.
In December 2012, the suit says, Wiersma received a letter from Cheryl Bressington, UNK’s human resources director, restricting Wiersma from being in her office when no other department staff or faculty members were present. Bressington also allegedly required Wiersma to use her power chair when on campus.
However, the lawsuit claims that it wasn’t medically necessary for Wiersma to use a power chair and that the restriction would limit her ability to move freely, to stand up in classrooms and to use the restroom.
Because of the restrictions, Wiersma claims, she was forced to resign as department chairwoman.
UNK spokesperson Kelly Bartling declined to discuss the lawsuit or personnel issues, but said UNK maintains its dedication to serving all their constituents and does not discriminate.
No trial or hearing date has been set in either court.