Iowa settles discrimination case with former University of Iowa animal caretaker

Solicitor general flags 'difficult facts about our failure to follow up'

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top l
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)

Iowa’s Appeal Board on Tuesday agreed the state should pay a former University of Iowa employee $175,000 to settle a lawsuit in which he accuses his former employer of disability discrimination.

Via the agreement, which the board approved 3-0, the state will pay Joshua Garringer $61,602.43 for non-wage compensation losses and $41,068.28 for lost wages, plus another $72,329.29 for attorneys fees to the Sherinian & Hasso Law Firm.

Garringer, according to his lawsuit, started working at UI in 2002 as an animal caretaker in the research laboratories. In late 2017, he was diagnosed with a musculoskeletal impairment that causes bones to rub against each other and cause severe pain.

As a result, Garringer’s physician imposed permanent work restrictions, limiting him from lifting, reaching, and bending. In February 2018, Garringer told UI human resources of his new restrictions and need for accommodations.

In his lawsuit, Garringer said UI never evaluated potential accommodations that could have allowed him to continue as an animal caretaker and instead put him in an “ADA referral program” starting a 90-day clock to find another UI position.

A UI human resources officer — who is no longer with the institution — told Garringer to review available positions and let him know which he was interested in. Garringer did that, but the officer never responded or returned Garringer’s calls.

When human resources did reach back out to Garringer in June 2018, it was to notify him the referral period had lapsed and he was being terminated “since he had not obtained a new position.”

In his lawsuit, Garringer accused the university of violating Iowa’s Civil Rights Act by, among other things, failing to accommodate his disability, failing to engage in an interactive process, and failing to try to find him another position.

In the board’s discussion Tuesday, Solicitor General Jeff Thompson of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office said Garringer suffered an “on-the-job injury, went through the workers’ compensation process and had maximum recovery but he still had a disability.”

“He asked for an accommodation, which we weren’t able to provide,” Thompson said. “There are some questions about the process and the follow up and whether we engaged in the appropriate process that Iowa law requires.”

The “initial demand,” he said, “was pretty significant.”

“It’s one that we think, under the circumstances and some difficult facts about our failure to follow up on alternatives for this employee, we think the settlement is a good compromise and reduces the risk to the state,” Thompson said.

Department of Management Director David Roederer said, “I assume that it’s the best deal that we could get, I’m not arguing that. It’s just, I’m always concerned whether or not in these types of cases whether there’s follow up done internally to see what we could do to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.”

Thompson affirmed the state did follow up.

“There were some things discovered during the litigation and discovery process that led to some follow up to improve the process,” he said.

Rod Boshart, reporter with The Gazette, contributed to this report.

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