U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle has denied Madison County Treasurer's office motion for a new trial in a case brought by a former employee who was awarded more than $650,000 in damages in an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit.
Following a three-day trial in February 2016, jurors awarded Linda Dunnagan $530,090 in compensatory damages and $128,808 in attorney fees and costs in her suit against the office of former treasurer Kurt Prenzler.
Her suit claimed that she had been hospitalized with a life threatening illness in 2012, and upon returning to work was told her duties would be transferred to a less experienced employee.
After another hospitalization, Prenzler suggested she retire, her suit alleged, yet she indicated a desire to remain in her position.
Dunnagan accused Prenzler of hostility toward her on account of a physical disability after her position as comptroller was eliminated in 2013.
On Friday, Yandle denied a defense motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial, ruling that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find Dunnagan "was at least regarded as disabled by her employer."
"At trial, Prenzler testified that he hired and maintained an Assistant Comptroller while simultaneously eliminating Plaintiff’s position of Comptroller after being 'shocked' that Plaintiff was at work with an IV drip in her arm," Yandle wrote.
She wrote that evidence at trial included the county's human resources director expressing concern "that Prenzler was trying to 'get rid'of Plaintiff on account of her illness."
"Taking this evidence into account, the Court again finds that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that Plaintiff was at least regarded as disabled by her employer," Yandle wrote. "As such, the jury’s verdict in this regard was not against the manifest weight of the evidence."
Yandle also denied a defense request that the jury's damage award be reduced to comply with a statutory cap in ADA litigation under Section 1981a(b)(3), which limits damages to $50,000 if the entity being sued has between 14 and 101 employees.
She wrote that the court had previously found that defendants "had not properly moved for a reduction of the compensatory damages and had not provided any evidence to establish the number of employees."
"The Court also specifically ruled that although Plaintiff worked in the Madison County Treasurer’s Office, she was an employee of Madison County and therefore, the number of employees of Madison County, not solely the Madison County Treasurer’s Office, should be considered for the purpose of applying the damage cap," Yandle wrote.
She wrote that defendants properly moved for a reduction in compensatory damages, but only submitted evidence of the number of treasurer's office employees, "notwithstanding the Court's previous ruling that the appropriate metric is the total number of employees for Madison County."
Yandle granted the treasurer's office motion to amend the judgment to exclude Madison County because no verdict was rendered against it, just the treasurer's office.
Parties had agreed before trial that Madison County would be dismissed for purposes of liability, but remain in the case for indemnification purposes only, the ruling states.
The county was represented by attorney John Gilbert.
Dunnagan was represented by Lee Barron and William Buchanan of Alton.
Prenzler was elected county board Chairman last November. Current Madison County Treasurer is Chris Slusser.