Board of health transfers plaintiff nurse again

SANDUSKY The Erie County Board of Health shocked former school nurse Maria Sulewski when they inform
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

The Erie County Board of Health shocked former school nurse Maria Sulewski when they informed her by letter April 20 that her job title had changed once again.

This was the second time since November Sulewski said she was forced to change nursing positions. She sued after the first time, claiming the board changed her job because she wouldn't teach a sexual education class due to her religious beliefs.

Sulewski, 55, is a Roman Catholic Christian who does not believe in using any form of birth control or contraception. She claimed in her lawsuit against the Erie County Board of Health and other health department officials that she was forced to take a less desirable schedule as a school nurse in November because she refused to do a presentation on birth control and contraception for two area elementary and junior high schools.

Sulewski's attorneys filed a lawsuit on her behalf April 19. She received the letter about another job change the next day. This time, in home health nursing.

Sulewski's attorneys claim their client is being retaliated against because the county board of health does not want to accommodate her religious beliefs.

"In response to our filing a suit, they instructed her she was terminated as a school nurse and ordered her to report as a home health nurse," said Patrick J. Perotti of Dworken & Bernstein Company LPA, the firm that represents Sulewski.

Perotti is also a member of the Cleveland and Ohio Right to Life Society, according to his biography posted on Findlaw.com.

But Terry Griffith, attorney for the health board, said the decision to transfer Sulewski was made on April 18, the day before her suit was filed.

"She was transferred as were two other people," Griffith said, "because we needed her in that position. This was not specific to her."

Griffith said Sulewski worked as a home health nurse before, which Sulewski denies.

After the most recent job change, her attorneys filed a protection order, which they say prevents the health board from changing anything else about Sulewski's job until a judge says it's OK.

After Sulewski refused to teach her classes about contraception, another nurse was appointed to conduct the lesson.

But Perotti said the question of whether or not Sulewski's accommodation was reasonable is not the issue. By allowing another nurse to do the presentation on birth control, the board conceded that the accommodation was reasonable, Perotti said.

He said the question now is whether or not the health board's decision to transfer Sulewski to another schedule and job was retaliation for her religious demands.

That's under the retaliation portion of the statute, he said.

"Under that portion, the question is: Was her request for an accommodation a motivating factor for them later demoting her?" Perotti said. "If it played a part, then what they did was illegal."

Griffith refused to comment about the lawsuit specifically.

"I don't try cases in the newspapers," she said. "I try them in court."