CEDAR RAPIDS --- A former Upper Iowa University employee was awarded more than $1.1 million in back wages and punitive damages after a civil jury found she was improperly terminated.
Lynne Seabrooke, 51, of Elgin, sued Upper Iowa last year in U.S. District Court for Northern Iowa, claiming the college violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when they fired her in February 2009. At the time, Seabrooke said she was diagnosed with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, and her conditions were covered by the law.
"Lynne is very happy," her attorney, Dale Putnam of Decorah, said. "Obviously she feels very vindicated."
Upper Iowa officials issued the following statement: "Upper Iowa University is disappointed with but respects the verdict of the jury. The university is committed to providing equal opportunities for all of its employees and believes its actions in this case were justified and necessary."
Max Kirk, a Waterloo attorney for Upper Iowa, said the college will appeal. "I think there are issues that need to be raised," Kirk said.
Seabrooke was working as an assistant registrar of international programs, focusing on the school's Malaysia campus. She said in court documents that she tried to get the college to accommodate her problems as required by the law, but her supervisors didn't meet her requests.
Among those requests were shorter work weeks, a lighter work load and moving her desk toward a window to increase the amount of natural light she received - all of which were recommended by her mental health counselor.
Instead, she said, the supervisors increased her workload to double or triple the work her fellow registrars had to handle, according to the suit.
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Upper Iowa argued it was hard to meet Seabrooke's needs because she didn't provide medical documentation when they requested it and never put specific requests in, as required by the ADA.
"Before Upper Iowa can respond to a request for an accommodation, the request must actually be made," the attorneys said in a court filing.
Upper Iowa attorneys said Seabrooke was terminated because of four incidents where she was verbally abusive toward of her colleagues, not because of her condition.
The attorneys also said Upper Iowa hired a part-time assistant to help lighten Seabrooke's workload. However, Seabrooke said in documents that she was frozen out of that hiring process.
According to court documents, Seabrooke attempted suicide after her termination. Her children called emergency services and saved her life. She hasn't been able to find a job and is still unemployed, Putnam said.
She did not try to get her job back at Upper Iowa, despite the disabilities act allowing her to regain her position.
Seabrooke could be awarded further compensation from Upper Iowa based on anticipated future earnings, Putnam said. The jury first had to reach a decision on lost wages to determine the future earnings figure, he said.
Kirk said he didn't believe the jury's verdict would harm Upper Iowa's reputation, and believed the college does cater to disabled students and employees.
"It doesn't change the essential mission of the university," he said.
Efforts to seeking comment from Upper Iowa officials on the ruling were unsuccessful. A number for Seabrooke also couldn't be located.