Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Upcoming discrimination trial against Wood River-Hartford school board gets new judge: Reagan appointee Leinenweber

Federal Court

By The Madison County Record | Oct 8, 2019

Leinenweber and Rosenstengel

EAST ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel prepared for an October trial on a discrimination suit against Wood River-Hartford school board, but stepped away from it in September. 

Senior Judge Harry Leinenweber of the Northern District will preside, according to an order the Seventh Circuit appellate court issued on Oct. 1. 

Chief Judge Diane Wood assigned Leinenweber to Southern Illinois from Sept. 26 to Dec. 31, 2020, or longer if unfinished business requires it. 

Plaintiff Jane Emerick alleges failure to accommodate her multiple sclerosis

Rosenstengel held a final pretrial hearing on Sept. 19. At that point she had set trial for October without setting the date. 

On Sept. 24, she set it to run from Oct. 22 to Oct. 24. 

The judicial switch didn’t alter the dates, according to a notice the court clerk posted after Wood assigned Leinenweber. 

Lee Barron of Alton filed Emerick’s suit in 2016, alleging disparate treatment and failure to accommodate a disability. He identified her as a school district employee for 16 years. 

According to the complaint, Emerick’s multiple sclerosis substantially limited her in manual tasks, walking, standing, opening and closing doors, going up and down stairs, and lifting. 

In 2014, the district allegedly subjected her to near daily humiliations. The Hartford elementary principal allegedly told her she couldn’t use the bathroom in her classroom due to a lack of grab bars. 

Emerick’s suit lists special events she missed because the school lacked a stair tracker. She learned the district owned one and allegedly loaned it out. 

She also alleges she couldn’t participate in testing at Lewis and Clark elementary because it lacked door openers and bathrooms for persons with disabilities. 

Punitive damages should and must be assessed, her lawyer argues. 

The school board retained Garrett Hoerner and Thomas Hunter, both of Becker Hoerner in Belleville, and they moved for summary judgment. 

Former district judge Michael Reagan granted it against the disparate treatment claim but found Emerick could proceed on failure to accommodate. 

“Plaintiff testified that despite multiple attempts to confer with her employer about needed accommodations, the process was never collaborative,” Reagan wrote. 

He wrote that the allegations could support a theory of continuous violation. 

“Defendant cannot fairly say that plaintiff can perform the functions of her job without accommodation because she would not even be able to enter the building to begin performing functions of her job without the help of her parents.” 

Reagan retired, and the clerk assigned Rosenstengel. 

The record provides no clue for her departure from the action. 

Visiting judge Leinenweber represented Joliet voters in the Illinois House from 1973 to 1983. 

He held the chair of the judiciary committee throughout those years. 

Illinois Periodicals Online shows him on a list of legislative candidates from 1975. 

The list also shows Lynn Martin of Rockford, now his wife. She would advance from the General Assembly to U.S. Secretary of Labor. 

President Reagan picked Leinenweber for the Northern District bench in 1985. 

He’s 82 years old.

Wood's assignment order didn't limit Leinenweber to a single trial. District court clerk Margaret Robertie, in an interview on Oct. 8, said that whether he takes other cases remains to be seen.

Rosenstengel and Yandle carry heavy caseloads because President Trump hasn't appointed replacements for two judges who retired last year.

Earlier this year the Seventh Circuit assigned Senior Judge Richard Mills of the Central District to Circuit Judge Ron Duebbert's malicious prosecution suit.

Robertie said, "We are grateful to the judges who have stepped in. We did this for others (previously) and folks are returning the favor, I guess you could say."    

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