On August 26, 2021, the Beer Sheba Regional Labor Court rejected a suit by an elementary school teacher (the plaintiff) for compensation for discrimination and emotional distress allegedly caused by requiring her to teach virtually when she refused to wear a mask because of her asthma. The court ruled that the Ministry of Health’s (MOH’s) decision to allow her to teach virtually, without prejudice to her employment and financial rights, was lawful and did not violate her rights under the Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law, 5758-1998. (Case 58948-02-21 Labor Court (BSh.) Or Shemesh v. Ministry of Education (Aug. 26, 2021).)
The plaintiff’s request for a temporary injunction against the Ministry of Education (MOE) to allow her to teach virtually was based on the same arguments that had previously been rejected by the same court.
The Public Health Order (the Novel Coronavirus) (Isolation and Various Provisions) (Temporary Order) requires a person to wear a mask outside of his/her place of residence under conditions enumerated. The order recognizes an exception for “a person who, due to a mental, intellectual or medical disability, has significant difficulties … in covering his/her mouth and nose.”
The court took judicial notice that wearing a mask reduces the rate of infection, noting World Health Organization studies by top senior medical officials on the subject. The court held that requiring the plaintiff to temporarily teach virtually was reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances. The MOH had a duty to protect students, teachers, school staff, and parents from infection. Asthma was not expressly recognized by the order as a general ground for an exemption from wearing a mask. According to the court, even in cases where there was a legitimate ground for an exemption, the person in charge of the relevant place should set rules to protect those who come in contact with the exempted person. This is especially true with regard to unvaccinated students.
The court held that the medical documents presented by the plaintiff did not establish that she was a “person with a disability” within the definition of the Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities Law. Finding that the MOH decision was made lawfully and did not constitute a prohibited discriminatory act, the court rejected the plaintiff’s claim for compensation for emotional distress.Because the plaintiff resigned from her job after the court had rejected her suit, the court decided not to impose legal fees on her.