Friday, October 3, 2014

Mercer County Community College pays $275,000 to settle ADA lawsuit.

On September 23, 2014, the Mercer County Community College agreed to pay $275,000 to a former assistant professor who alleged that the college deprived her of rights accorded by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The college also agreed to pay the costs of mediation and to give a neutral reference to future employers.

In her suit, Monique S. Simon, who was hired by the college as an Assistant Professor of Communications in July 2006, was known to have Active Epstein Barr Virus prior to her hiring but also fell victim to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in August of 2008.  Despite her illness, Simon claimed to have met or exceeded her performance expectations and took on the additional posts of Department Coordinator and Adjunct Faculty Liaison.  After she found herself to be excessively fatigued, she said that she asked Dean Judith Ehresman if she could, because of her illness, step down from the Coordinator and Liaison posts and work exclusively in her teaching position.

In a later meeting with Ehresman and Human Resources Director Eileen Curristine, Simon alleged that she was told that she was required to continue serving in her Coordinator and Liaison positions.  She said she was given the option of resigning her Assistant Professor position and work exclusively as Coordinator and Liaison.  The colleges unwillingness to accommodate her disability, Simon claimed, caused her to file a union grievance in which she prevailed.

She claimed that as her disease worsened, Curristine said "I don't know what you want us to do about it." Simon alleged that the college administration embarked on a "campaign of relation" against her and that "Dean Ehresman did not recommend Simon's re-appointment for the 2009-2010 school year."

The case is captioned Simon v. Mercer County Community College, Federal Case No. 3:10-cv-0550 and Simon's attorney was Jamison M. Mark of Basking Ridge.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Simon's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $275,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Mercer or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Mercer or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Simon $275,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.