Minnesota’s first depression

Nicole Vulcan

Attorneys on both sides of what is believed to be Minnesota’s first depression-related discrimination case brought forth arguments in the Minnesota State Court of Appeals Wednesday.
In 1995, former University employee Robert Shaw sued the University for discrimination after being fired from his job as a Facilities Management project manager. He claimed he was discriminated against because of job-related depression; a jury awarded him more than $500,000 in compensatory damages in January 1998.
But Hennepin County District Court Judge Franklin Knoll overturned the case in the early summer of 1998, on the grounds that Shaw did not have the right to sue.
During Wednesday morning’s hearing, Judy Schermer, Shaw’s attorney, appealed Knoll’s assertion that because Shaw did not exhaust the proper internal grievance channels, he was never entitled to make the claim in court. University attorney Tracy Smith argued to uphold the District Court’s decision.
Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel, said that since the University is a state institution, employees are obligated to utilize its internal grievance procedures before going to court. If the employees are unsatisfied with the results, they can then take the case to the District Court of Appeals.
Shaw alleged his work environment caused him to develop job-related depression, a condition he and his attorney claim is covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Under the law, employers are required to reasonably accommodate an employee’s disabilities.
Shaw requested to be transferred to a different department after encountering problems with his bosses, which he claims caused his depression. But rather than being transferred, he was fired in 1994.
Schermer counter-appealed Knoll’s decision to overturn the case before a three-judge panel Wednesday.
“This (statute) is true of faculty, not for civil service employees,” Schermer said. “It’s an area of the law where there are some conflicts.”
Additionally, Schermer argued that because he had already been terminated from his position at the University, the grievance procedure did not affect Shaw.
“We are pleased that the District Court corrected the jury error here,” Rotenberg said. “We believe that by limiting the trial court jurisdiction, it will ensure speedier and less expensive resolutions of employment claims at the University.”
District Court judges James Harten, Gordon Schumacher and Jim Randall have 90 days to rule on the appeal.