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Madison County appeals $659K judgment in former employee’s ADA case

By Record News | Jul 5, 2017

CHICAGO – Madison County has appealed a jury verdict finding the treasurer’s office discriminated against employee Linda Dunnagan while current county board chairman Kurt Prenzler occupied the office. 

The county filed the appeal at the U.S. Seventh Circuit on June 30. 

Jurors awarded Dunnagan $450,000 last year, after concluding that Prenzler demoted her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle later awarded Dunnagan $80,089.61 in back pay, $125,440 in legal fees, and $3,368.16 in costs. 

Dunnagan sued Prenzler in 2014, claiming she retired from an intolerable situation in order to keep health insurance. 

At trial in February 2016, she testified that after Prenzler won the election in 2010, he eliminated jobs for some and asked others to take major pay cuts. 

Dunnagan said he asked her to take a $5,000 cut in her position as county comptroller while earning $57,000. 

She said she took the cut because she felt he would have told her to leave too. 

In 2012, she started running temperatures, and had been admitted to a hospital emergency room. 

“I bet you I had three or four blankets on me and they still couldn’t get me to stop shivering,” she said. 

She went back to work with an intravenous drip, and said that when Prenzler saw it, he had a panicked look on his face. 

She said he asked if it would affect anyone in the office and if a doctor said she could do it. 

She said he eliminated her position and offered another position at $35,000. 

“I think he was trying to eliminate me because I had been sick for so long, that I wasn’t able to be there when they needed me,” she said. 

“If I failed and they let me go, I’d lose my health insurance.” 

On cross examination, county counsel John Gilbert said, “From January 16th, when Kurt Prenzler clarified what the job was going to be, until you resigned on February 12th, you never once went to Kurt to talk to him about that job, did you?” 

She said no. 

He asked if she told him it was much too much work, and she said no. 

He asked if she told him it wasn’t enough money, and she said no. 

He asked how many sick hours she had, and she said 800. 

He asked if she could have stayed on sick leave, and she said yes. 

In closing argument, Gilbert said, “These are not disabilities. It’s illness.” 

Gilbert said an award of damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act requires physical impairment that substantially limits the major life activity of working. 

He said she came back to work without restrictions. 

Gilbert didn’t sway jurors. 

Last July, Yandle awarded back pay and legal fees. 

Last September, the treasurer’s office moved for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial. 

Yandle denied the motion this June 2, finding “sufficient evidence for the jury to find that plaintiff was at least regarded as disabled by her employer.”      

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