|(U-WIRE) MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- 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.