A New Jersey teenager who has epilepsy was cut from her volleyball team and the school's and her teammates' response prompted the girl's parents to file a discrimination lawsuit.
Justin Pulliate says his daughter, Ella, was the only one of four 8th graders at Norwood Public School in Bergen County who cut during last September's tryouts despite having been on the team for two years. In a lawsuit filed this month, Pulliate claimed the volleyball coach cut Ella from the team because "her epilepsy would require a nurse to be present at every practice and game, costing the district money."
Pulliate said a staffer told him that the coach was instructed by an administrator to remove Ella from the team.
When the father raised concerns to the principal, Ella was placed back on the team days later but the damage had been done. Pulliate says his then-13-year-old’s last years at Norwood were marked by discrimination from the school and bullying from other students who mocked her for her medical condition.
"She loved being a member of the volleyball team. It was something where she felt accepted," Pulliate told NBC New York.
"When she was allowed back on the team, she was mocked she was made fun of. This didn't last a day, a week, it lasted throughout the year. You know, 'You’re only on the team because your dad complained and you’re not good enough.'"
On top of it all, Ella had an awful epileptic episode and her respiratory system shut down. She was put on a ventilator and in an induced coma.
Pulliate claimed in the lawsuit that the school district violated the state's discrimination laws. "They have to be held accountable and they have an obligation to children with physical disabilities, mental disabilities," the father said.
The district's superintendent, Lisa Gross, had no comment on the lawsuit, only saying this in a statement to NBC New York: "I am aware that a complaint was filed, which has been forwarded to the Board’s counsel, who will be answering the complaint on behalf of the Board. As this is a litigation matter, I shall not make any further public comment."