Wis. Teacher's ADA Suit Reinstated

October 13, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Wisconsin school district accused of failing to accommodate the request of a teacher afflicted with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to move to a classroom with windows will have to face trial in the teacher's Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit.

class=”first”> The 7 th  U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled thatChief U.S. District JudgeBarbara B. Crabbof the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin was wrong when she threw out Renae Ekstrand’s case against the School District of Somerset.

class=”first”> Ekstrand alleged the district committed the ADA violation during the 2005-2006 school year when it failed to move her to a classroom with exterior windows. According to the 7 th Circuit ruling written by Circuit Judge William J Bauer, Ekstrand’s condition soon worsened, but Ekstrand was not moved despite the availability of two other classrooms.

Bauer said in his opinion that by late September 2005 and through the time Ekstrand began medical leave October 17, 2005, she suffered from significant inability to concentrate, organize her thoughts, retrieve words, make decisions, and focus on the needs of her students. She also experienced hypersomnia, racing thoughts, panic attacks, uncontrollable crying, inability to eat, and thoughts of suicide.

Her doctors put her on medication and suggested the leave. The opinion said Ekstrand’s doctors certified her as disabled but that she could return if she had a work environment with natural light.

“Once aware of natural light’s medical necessity to Ekstrand, and having been informed by Ekstrand only two weeks earlier that she was willing and able to return to work in a classroom with natural light, the school district was obligated to provide Ekstrand’s specifically requested, medically necessary accommodation unless it ‘would impose an undue hardship’ on the school district,” Bauer declared.

Even the expenses of making such a move were not prohibitive, Bauer said. “We think these admittedly nonzero costs are modest and that Ekstrand presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find them required under the ADA’s reasonableness standard beginning November 28, 2005, when the school district knew that a room with natural light was necessary to accommodate her.”

The appellate panel threw out   Crabb’s dismissal order and sent the case back for further proceedings after finding that Ekstrand’s case was strong enough to submit to a jury.  The district, Crabb said, “engaged in the interactive process and addressed plaintiff’s complaints by making changes aimed at reducing her stress.”

However, the appeals court upheld the trial court’s dismissal of another Ekstrand allegation that she also had been constructively discharged when she resigned from the school in July 2007.

Bauer’s opinion is available here .