Man says he was fired one day after disclosing he had autism

A Camden County instructor was fired shortly after disclosing that he had a disability.

CAMDEN COUNTY, Ga. - One man is taking Camden County to court after he says he was fired one day after disclosing a disability. Before he was terminated in January of 2015, he worked for the Camden County’s 4-H Youth Development Program.

In his lawsuit, Robert Castleberry says he asked for simple accommodations so he could focus on his work and get away from noises inside the building or from the playground next door. But, he says they would not make that happen for him and instead let him go.

"The way the offices were set up at one part of the building, the walls were literally paper thin, you hear every conversation, every tap of keys," Castleberry said.

Castleberry says his  “disorder” lost him the job he loved; a disorder he says they asked him to disclose after telling him he must see one of their doctors to get a diagnosis.

"So it’s Autism Spectrum Disorder, formerly Asperger’s, they kind of folded Asperger’s into Autism Spectrum Disorder so it’s primarily a lot of social issues," Castleberry said.

He says it didn’t stop him from thriving in the 4-H program.

"I could go in and I could use my creativity in the classroom and I had this 'Mr. Awesome' personality, teachers were calling me ,'Mr. Awesome,' teachers were calling me it, parents were calling me it," he said. "And I felt like I belonged and I did fit in."

The staff evaluations for Castleberry show that he was a respected instructor. These evaluations were released the same month he was fired in 2015: 

“Engages students and holds their attention so they effectively receive information about 4H.”

“I think Robert does a fabulous job with the kids. He is always well prepared and the students love 4H days.  He is full of enthusiasm for  4H and this is evident to the students.”

“Mr. Castleberry interacts well with the students. He keeps their attention and makes 4H meetings enjoyable for them. They want to do their best when he is here. Mr. Castleberry comes prepared to conduct the meeting.”

"To have something like this occur, to have this perfect job, I could see myself actually continue on, it was just taken from me just because I wanted some accommodations, just because I’m different."

According to the lawsuit filed in September of 2015, he says they denied his requests for accommodations like noise cancelling headphones, which he wore during our interview to block out distracting noises, and being moved to the back room.

Camden County filed a response denying most of the allegations, saying “Camden County did not engage in any violation of state or federal law" and “Camden County denies that it violated any of Castleberry’s rights under state or federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act.”

First Coast News drove to Woodbine, Georgia to speak with Castleberry’s supervisor. She declined our request for an on camera interview. She also declined to give a statement.

As for Castleberry, he’s on the hunt for a job so he can regain health insurance.

He and his attorney say they are on a path to find justice.

"People who have a disability deserve to work also, they should have a normal life, they shouldn’t have their disability define them," said his attorney, A.J. Lakraj.

He deposed two of Castelberry’s supervisor’s on Wednesday. He says it's just the beginning of the case.

First Coast News also reached out to Castleberry's other supervisor who sent him the official termination email, but she has not yet responded. This is a developing story. 

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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