State High Court Rules Cheese Factory Must Accommodate Workers With
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
July 11, 2003
MADISON, WISCONSIN--The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday ruled in favor of a woman who claimed her former employer discriminated against her by failing to accommodate her disability.
Susan Catlin began working as a cheese cutter for the Crystal Lake Cheese Factory in August 1995, but was soon promoted from cutting cheese to managing a wholesale department with four employees -- a job that involved assisting those workers when needed.
In November 1996, Catlin became quadriplegic as the result of an automobile accident. When she tried to return to work the following September, company administrators told her she would not be able to do the tasks of all four jobs, and that they could not accommodate her disability. They also said it would cost $47,000 to install an accessible bathroom for her, a cost that the company considered a hardship.
Catlin sued the company under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. Her position was later supported by the state Labor and Industry Review Commission, Barron County Circuit Judge James Eaton and the 3rd District Court of Appeals.
The state Supreme Court determined that Crystal Lake's "refusal to modify Catlin's job duties to exempt her from performing the heaviest physical tasks, and to make physical modifications to the work place, constituted the denial of a reasonable accommodation, which it could have provided without hardship."
"With such reasonable accommodations, she would have the ability to undertake, adequately, her job-related responsibilities," the court wrote in its final opinion.
Catlin's attorney, Monica Murphy of the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy, said the decision was a victory for people with disabilities.
"It makes clear that the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act should be broadly interpreted to accommodate people with disabilities," she said.
Murphy said the back wages Catlin sought now total at least $100,000 and added that the cheese company will also be responsible for Catlin's attorney fees.
"Supreme Court says cheese factory discriminates against worker" (Associated Press via Duluth News Tribune)
Crystal Lake Cheese Factory v. Labor and Industry Review Commission
and Susan Catlin (Wisconsin Supreme Court)