In Dicta

Monday, August 15, 2005

Court: Former gov't worker awarded $3M

"The federal government often touts itself as a model employer of workers with disabilities. Lisa Bremer begs to differ.

She was awarded $3 million yesterday in compensatory damages after jurors found that the Commerce Department failed to provide "reasonable accommodation" for her battle with multiple sclerosis.

Bremer, 44, a Freedom of Information Act officer at the department since 1987, took disability retirement in April 2003 after her supervisor ended an arrangement that had allowed Bremer to work from home two days a week. She sued at that time.

Bremer, who was diagnosed with MS in 1991 and uses a wheelchair, had submitted medical documentation that her condition was severe enough to justify special treatment under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (The law requires the government to make adjustments so qualified workers with disabilities can perform the essential functions of their jobs.) The Commerce Department had approved her physicians' request in 1993 that Bremer be allowed to work from home two days a week, and in 1996 the department bought a motorized scooter for her to use in the office, said her attorney, Joseph V. Kaplan.

"This all could have been prevented if the Department of Commerce had just lived up to its obligations," Kaplan said.

Federal law limits Bremer's award for compensatory damages to $300,000, Kaplan said. The jury is not told about the ceiling before it deliberates. Bremer is awaiting a ruling from a judge on whether she is entitled to back pay.

Bremer said she was "ecstatic" about the jury's decision. "It sends a strong message that the government's behavior was outrageous," she said."

From The Washington Post.

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