California Jury Finds Retaliation in Comfort Animal Case

March 12, 2007 ( - Jurors have awarded $45,000 to a woman who said she was fired for bringing her dog to work as a way to ease her anxiety and depression.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Chris Storm argued in her lawsuit that the Consumers Self Help Center, a mental health clinic, and its director, Meghan Stanton, had retaliated against her because she asked to keep Lacey, a 4-year-old Maltese, in her office.

The center’s fiscal director, Storm had been bringing Lacey – and a previous dog – to work with her for more than eight years when Stanton, the new director, told her to leave her pet at home. Stanton testified that the dog was not properly house trained, and that its waste was an office hazard.

According to the Bee, Storm filed a grievance in 2003, saying she needed Lacey as therapy for her depression. The jurors agreed that the center had retaliated against Storm for filing a disability grievance, and said Stanton hadn’t adhered to proper procedures in handling Storm’s petition.

Accomodation Claim Canned

However, the jurors rejected Storm’s claims that she was the victim of disability discrimination and that the center had failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for her under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Asked on the verdict form if Storm had a mental disability that limited her ability to work, the jurors answered “no,” according to the report.

With a finding of no mental disability, the jury never reached the issue of whether those suffering from anxiety and depression should be allowed to have comfort animals in the workplace. A state appeals court had ruled that comfort animals could be allowed in otherwise dog-free housing complexes. Storm’s lawyer had hoped Storm’s case might extend the law to employers, according to the report.

The Bee said that the relatively low damage award was based on the evidence that Storm had not tried hard to find another job.