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UT community service officer seeks damages from university, alleges violation of federal law

Jonathan Beckers filed the lawsuit in Knoxville in October.
Credit: UTK

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A community service officer with the University of Tennessee on unpaid leave for more than a year alleges UT is violating federal law in failing to give him a chance to work a shift recommended by his doctor.

Jonathan Beckers, 58, filed suit against UT Knoxville on Oct. 20 in U.S. District Court in Knoxville. He's been on unpaid leave since April 2021, according to the document.

UTK is the only defendant.

In December 2020, Beckers learned he had a brain tumor.

He'd worked as a CSO security officer since 2013 at UTK. Such employees are civilians -- not police officers -- who assist on campus with activities such as helping with event traffic, issuing parking citations, doing walk-throughs of certain areas and assisting citizens with after-hours escorts, according to UTK's website.

Beckers reported to a lieutenant with the University of Tennessee Police Department.

As Beckers began treatment, his doctor, identified as Dr. Michael J. Passarello, said he could continue to work -- so long as he worked no more than 40 hours and worked a daytime shift. CSOs sometimes during a busy season will work a lot of overtime.

In March 2021, UT's Office of Equity & Diversity recommended in a letter to his supervisor that he work days at a rate of no more than 40 hours a week, the lawsuit states.

But in early April 2021, Beckers got a letter from UTPD administrators that the department couldn't accommodate the recommendation, the lawsuit states.  

UTPD was willing to put him on unpaid leave for up to two years until a day shift opened up "or you are released by your healthcare provider to work other shifts."

Also, the letter stated, Beckers had until April 9 to let UTPD know if he'd accept the unpaid leave of absence "or it would be assumed that (Beckers) had resigned."

According to the lawsuit, Beckers thought he had no choice but to accept the unpaid leave of absence.

Beckers and his attorney, Adam Strachn, allege UT violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act in failing to accommodate him with his medical condition.

The university, according to the lawsuit, also ignored their own letter in failing to recall Beckers when a dayshift slot opened back up. Multiple daytime CSO positions at UTPD have become available since April 2021 but Beckers hasn't been brought back to work, according to the document.

The lawsuit seeks roughly $700,000 for among other things lost wages, emotional distress and to cover penalties for having to tap his retirement account.

WBIR reached out Monday to UTK for comment. A university spokesman said they cannot comment on pending litigation.

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