Teacher with AIDS files bias complaint against school district

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Richard N. Gliniak Jr., a public-school teacher with AIDS, has filed a discrimination complaint against the city’s public-school system, claiming that school officials discontinued his medical-leave benefits because of AIDS bias.

“They [district officials] just want to get rid of me,” Gliniak told PGN. “They want me to go back to work, which would be a set-up for disaster, because I’m not well enough to return to the classroom yet.”

Gliniak, 47, of South Philadelphia, has been a teacher with the district for about seven years.

He went out on medical leave in October 2008, but later that year, school officials had him evaluated by a psychiatrist, who determined that he’s capable of working.

On the basis of the psychiatric evaluation, Gliniak’s medical-leave benefits, also known as “wage-continuation benefits,” were discontinued on Dec. 1, 2008, he said.

He’s been losing about $650 weekly, due to the discontinuation of those benefits, he said.

Gliniak maintains that the district should have sent him to an AIDS specialist for evaluation. He said an AIDS specialist could easily determine that he’s incapable of returning to work due to chronic fatigue and other disabling AIDS symptoms.

Gliniak takes nine different AIDS-related medications daily, and he said each medication has its own side effects, which can be disabling at times.

“The school district didn’t send me to an appropriate doctor,” Gliniak continued. “Do they think so little of the students’ welfare that they wouldn’t bother to do an appropriate medical evaluation of my health status?”

On Feb. 2, Gliniak signed a complaint against the district with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, alleging bias against him due to his AIDS disability.

Rachel S. Lawton, deputy director of compliance for the commission, said Gliniak’s complaint has been accepted for investigation.

“The allegations contained in Mr. Gliniak’s complaint will be fully investigated,” Lawton said.

Gliniak’s complaint alleges that school-district officials “refused to fully review Gliniak’s request for a medical leave and subsequently denied his request for a medical leave, all on the basis of his disability.”

Gliniak acknowledged that he’s had other extended medical leaves during his seven-year tenure with the district, but they were necessary due to AIDS-related illnesses.

He does his best to limit his absences, and he always supplies supervisors with adequate documentation to justify his absences, he said.

Fernando A. Gallard, a spokesperson for the school district, declined to comment for this story, citing school-district policy on personnel matters.

Gliniak enrolled in the district’s wage-continuation program at the start of his teaching career, for which he contributes $78.32 every two weeks, he said.

The program allows Gliniak to receive two-thirds of his salary while he’s on extended medical leave, as long as he keeps up with his premiums, and his absences don’t exceed the maximum allowed.

Gliniak said he participates in the program in good faith, at times even returning to work when his physicians have advised him against doing so.

“I only use my wage-continuation benefits when it’s absolutely necessary,” he said. “I want to go back to work, but it would be irresponsible of me to go back now. I couldn’t do justice to the job. I feel as old as my mother, who’s 73.”

Gliniak remains optimistic that his health will be restored sufficiently to return to work in September, he said.

Tim Cwiek can be reached at (215) 625-8501 ext. 208.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.