Michael Fox (not the actor) writes a nice blog on employment law from the employer’s perspective at: http://employerslawyer.blogspot.com/. He wrote recently about a jury result in Madison, Wisconsin. A jury awarded $2 million to a teacher who sought the simple accommodation of a class room with a window. Otherwise, she was subject to crying spells, fatigue, anxiety, hypervigilance and a host of other emotional maladies. See post. All this for a first grade teacher.
Mike’s point is that we should beware of cases reported in the newspaper. He suggests this report that all the teacher needed was a room with a window may have more to it than that. I am sure he is right about that. Not because reporters lack ability, but more because it is difficult to report on an unfamiliar area. Many movies get all aspects of a trial wrong. The same would follow with news reports. I have noticed this with my other career, the US Army. I have heard reporters describe 100 soldiers as "brigade" sized (no way), Bradley Fighting Vehicles referred to as tanks (not even close), and platoon leaders referred to as commanders (not really).
The newspaper report and Mike are right about one thing, the jury was upset when they awarded $2 million to the teacher. They had to believe the school district wasted their time with a weak case in order to award that much money. The award will be reduced by a big chunk – the Americans with Disabilities Act is subject to caps on damage awards. The highest cap for emotional suffering type damages is $300,000. The newspaper reports that the teacher, Renae Ekstrand, suffered from seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression. See Leagle report. The employer initially won on summary judgment. The summary judgment in favor of the employer was overturned on appeal in 2009. In 2010, the trial resulted with this $2 million award.
Ms. Ekstrand suffered a nervous breakdown after having to teach in a windowless room. There was apparently an empty classroom available with a window.
The point of the newspaper story is that everything could have been avoided if the school had offered her a room with a window. One room was apparently available with no effort.