Madison - St. Clair Record

Monday, December 16, 2019

Workplace discrimination case against Wood River-Hartford school board settles day before trial to start

Federal Court

By The Madison County Record | Oct 23, 2019

Leinenweberrosenstengel
Leinenweber and Rosenstengel

EAST ST. LOUIS – A discrimination suit against Wood River-Hartford school board settled a day before it was set to go to trial in federal court in East St. Louis.

An Oct. 21 docket entry indicates that parties had notified the court of a settlement, which canceled trial set to begin Oct. 22.

Represented by Lee Barron of Alton, plaintiff Jane Emerick sued in 2016 alleging failure to accommodate her multiple sclerosis, disparate treatment and failure to accommodate a disability.

Chief District Judge Nancy Rosenstengel had prepared for trial, but stepped away from the case in September. Senior Judge Harry Leinenweber of the Northern District of Illinois was then picked to preside, according to an Oct. 1 order of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

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

The Southern District has been short two district judges since the retirements of district judges Michael Reagan and David Herndon earlier this year.

President Trump has yet to announce nominations to those vacancies.

Emerick's trial was expected to last three days.

Her lawsuit claimed that multiple sclerosis substantially limited her in manual tasks, walking, standing, opening and closing doors, going up and down stairs, and lifting.

She had worked for the district since around 2000. 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 listed special events she missed because the school lacked a stair tracker. She learned the district owned one and allegedly loaned it out.

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

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

Former district judge 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 held.

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,” he wrote.

Leinenweber, 82, of Chicago, was nominated by President Reagan for the Northern District in 1985.

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