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The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has awarded a driver for the elderly more than $100,000 in damages and attorney fees after finding her co-workers for the Town of Agawam failed to accommodate, and often made fun of, her dyslexia. However, the attorney for the town, David Robinson of Springfield, Mass., claims the woman does not have such a disability, and plans on taking the MCAD decision to jury trial in Superior Court. “The report [she submitted to MCAD] never showed us she had dyslexia,” Robinson said. “Our position is that she does not have dyslexia.” On March 13, Springfield MCAD Commissioners Cynthia Tucker and Walter Sullivan Jr. found that Irene Cavanaugh, a van driver working for the town’s senior citizens, was discriminated against because of her disability, age and sex and was unlawfully retaliated against when she told co-workers about her dyslexia. According to the MCAD decision, Cavanaugh, 68, was awarded $70,000 in damages for emotional distress; $28,024 for attorney fees; and $9,878 for reasonable costs associated with the suit. The award was a reduction, however, of fees requested by Cavanaugh’s attorney, Robert O’Leary of Springfield, after the commissioners determined that O’Leary’s billable hours were “excessive.” The commissioners cited “overt examples of disproportionate time expended” including 145 hours to review transcripts; seven hours to prepare an eight-page motion for a protective order; more than eight hours reviewing Cavanaugh’s summary of evidence and more than one hour in preparing a two-page response to the respondent’s request for continuance. In awarding restitution for the attorney fees, MCAD reduced O’Leary’s listed hours by 60 percent. “While this is a significant reduction, it is necessary to account for the excessive amount of time devoted to certain tasks,” the commissioners wrote in a March 14 decision. In a previous evidentiary hearing in the case Irene Cavanaugh v. Town of Agawam, an MCAD hearing commissioner found that the town had been notified of her reading and writing disability as early as 1974, and that sometime in 1991 or 1992 Cavanaugh informed a senior dispatcher about her disability. After the lone commissioner found in Cavanaugh’s favor, the town appealed to the full commission. Cavanaugh was having increased trouble deciphering the drivers’ route sheets, and in 1993 had written the dispatcher, Doris Coolely, asking her to accommodate her dyslexia by hand writing her route sheet. Cavanaugh’s supervisor, Richard Mundo denied her request, citing a lack of documentation on her disease. After Cavanaugh provided Mundo with a copy of a previous diagnostic evaluation, he still failed to provide any accommodation for her, according to the decision. After Cavanaugh made a formal request for the hand-written sheet, both Coolely and Mundo scolded her in public, with Mundo threatening to fire her. In addition, Coolely and another dispatcher, Dot Barden, began making derogatory jokes regarding Cavanaugh’s age and disability. In May of 1993, Cavanaugh suffered a nervous breakdown while on the job. During the case the hearing commissioner had accepted the testimony of Cavanaugh’s psychologist who testified that her conflicts with the other employees, the constant harassment, and the anxiety she experienced from her difficulty in understanding her route sheets, led to her breakdown. Robinson who said Cavanaugh “quit” her job around May 27, 1993, could not have furnished her supervisor with the medical report, as she claimed she did in July of 1993, because she did not come back to work until sometime later. “The MCAD missed that one,” Robinson said. Robinson pointed out that under the state Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling in Lavelle v. MCAD, such cases that reach the public hearing level before the commission can either be taken to a jury trial or can be taken up for judicial review, except in very limited circumstances. “We will seek a jury trial,” Robinson said. “In the alternative, we might seek judicial review. We disagree with the MCAD decision and most of the findings in that decision.” Although Robinson tried to argue that many of the alleged incidents in question had occurred outside a six-month statute of limitations period, the MCAD made findings supporting that a “continuing violation” existed with the town.

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