Jury rules Z-M did not discriminateA former Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District employee failed to make his discrimination case against the district Friday.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
A former Zumbrota-Mazeppa School District employee failed to make his discrimination case against the district Friday.
Answering 18 questions, an eight-member jury decided that John Archer was capable of performing a custodian job, that there were no reasonable accommodations the district could have provided him and that he was not discriminated against when the district fired him in March 2009.
Archer, who had been employed with the school for 10 years, suffers from anxiety and panic attacks that make him pass out and caused him to miss work.
A complaint filed May 16, 2011, in First Judicial Court alleged that Archer was fired in March 2009 “at least in part for having utilized leave under the Family Medical Leave Act.”
The trial began Tuesday morning, with Judge Thomas Bibus presiding. The week included testimony from Archer, his parents, Arlis and Harold Archer, former Z-M Supt. Richard Meyerhofer and other school employees. The trial centered on whether Archer was capable of performing the essential function of his job and if the district made reasonable accommodations to do so.
Closing statements were heard Friday morning.
“There simply are some disabilities for which there are no reasonable accommodations,” defense attorney Susan Thurmer told the jury Friday morning. “Even if it is a disability that is causing the behavior, the person is not fulfilling the essential functions.”
“Our society doesn’t understand mental health disabilities yet,” plaintiff’s attorney Deanna Schleusner said. “An accommodation was possible.”
Because Archer missed work due to his panic attacks, attendance and its importance to his position were also debated.
“Attendance is an essential, elemental function of a job,” Thurmer said. “The attendance was deplorable.”
Schleusner countered that for eight years, from the time Archer was diagnosed in 2000 until 2008, attendance problems were minimal and only occurred when Archer’s medication needed to be adjusted.
During those times, Schleusner said, the district offered accommodations such as a flexible schedule and time off.
But, she said, that changed in December 2008.
“They decided they were sick of it and didn’t want to put up with it any longer,” Schleusner said.
Though Archer was asking for as much as $150,000 in lost wages, attorney’s fees and for pain and suffering, the jury decided he is entitled to nothing.