(CN) – A federal jury in Madison, Wisc., awarded a grade school teacher more than $353,000 in damages based on her claims that she was mistreated and ultimately fired because of her disabilities.
Renae Ekstrand began teaching kindergarten in the Somerset School District in 2000, but problems arose in 2004 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and requested a transfer to the first grade for stress relief.
But Ekstrand, who also suffers from fibromyalgia and depression, claimed that the district instead transferred her to a classroom beside the cafeteria that “had no lighting, no windows to the outside, and is extremely loud because of its location.”
When another teacher offered to switch rooms with Ekstrand, the principal refused to allow it, according to the complaint. Ekstrand said she began having serious issues with the room in the fall 2005. “Because of its proximity to the cafeteria/commons and pass-through areas, the outside noise was extremely disruptive, making it very difficult to conduct class; the lack of natural light was exacerbating her depression; and the poor lighting was causing problems such as headaches and irritability for Ekstrand, as well as her students,” according to the complaint.
Ekstrand claimed she requested sick leave in January 2006, but was denied “because of the perceived nature of her disability necessitating a ‘mental health’ rather than physical health leave of absence.
“Ekstrand was unable to return to work in January, as planned, and in fact remained unable to return to work for the remainder of the 2005-06 school year, due to the defendant’s conduct,” according to the complaint.
She said the school then directed her to turn in her keys and badge, while refusing to allow her to meet with her teaching team or visit the school at all.
Ekstrand was represented by Carol Skinner and will also recoup more than $21,000 in costs.