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Originally published December 20, 2012 at 8:18 PM | Page modified December 20, 2012 at 10:39 PM

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Seattle Public Schools to pay fired drama teacher $750,000

A longtime drama and language teacher who was fired in 2005 will receive a $750,000 settlement from Seattle Public Schools.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A former Seattle teacher has reached a $750,000 settlement from the public-school district that fired her seven years ago for not returning to work in a school building she said was harmful to her health.

The teacher, 14-year drama and language instructor Denise Frisino, sued Seattle Public Schools after the district fired her from Nathan Hale High School in 2005, according to court documents.

Frisino, who had developed respiratory sensitivity while working at another school, claimed the district discriminated against her by not doing enough to accommodate her health needs. The district argued it had completed several cleanup projects at Nathan Hale before deciding to fire her.

The lawsuit was initially thrown out by a King County judge, but an appeals court overturned that decision and the two parties settled on the eve of a scheduled new trial this fall. The settlement, finalized this week, did not constitute an admission of guilt, according to attorneys on both sides.

But Frisino, who is now an author, called it a relief.

"It's been a very long journey," she said. "I just really hope that this doesn't happen again to any teachers or any students or any faculty."

The saga began in 2000, when Frisino developed respiratory problems while working at Hamilton International Middle School. The district responded by providing an air filter and dispatching custodians to mop her classroom floor twice per week, according to court documents.

She agreed to transfer to Nathan Hale in 2004, but her headaches and asthmalike symptoms continued. She blamed mold in her classroom, and requested another transfer.

Despite some district cleanup attempts, Frisino stopped coming to work and was ultimately fired.

The district maintains that it did everything it could to accommodate her.

"We spent a significant amount of money over the course of three years while we attempted a multitude of building modifications to accommodate Ms. Frisino's sensitivity," said Teresa Wippel, a district spokeswoman. "We worked really hard to try to find a solution to her issues."

But Frisino claimed the district did not do enough.

The King County judge threw out the case after determining the district provided "reasonable accommodations," which was then all it was required to do.

But the Court of Appeals said school districts need to do more than that, and requested that the case receive a full trial. That led to the settlement.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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