A longtime professor at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago has filed suit, claiming administrators violated the Americans With Disabilities Act when they declined to accommodate his depression and Asperger’s syndrome.
Joel Cornwell has taught at the school since 1985 but was suspended from teaching and barred from ­campus in October following a series of dustups with students and administrators that he attributes to his mild form of Asperger’s. He says the condition makes it hard for him to pick up on nonverbal cues and impairs his social interactions.
Cornwell filed suit on Jan. 31 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeking reinstatement, past wages and damages for emotional distress. Dean John Corkery declined to comment in detail, citing the advice of counsel. “We’ve been discussing these issues with Joel,” he said. “Ultimately, I think our decisions will be upheld, but I can’t comment beyond that.”
According to Cornwell’s complaint, his problems began in February 2011 when he engaged in an angry exchange with maintenance staff. He received a “non-disciplinary” admonishment and was suspended from teaching pending a “fitness of duty assessment” by a forensic examiner. The examiner’s report confirmed that Cornwell has Asperger’s and suffers from depression.
He returned to teaching in fall 2011, but his suit alleges that administrators denied his request that they appoint a mental health professional to facilitate his communications with colleagues and superiors. Cornwell later requested a faculty mentor — a request the complaint says was ignored.
Cornwell achieved full faculty status in 2000 and has taught courses including property, lawyering skills, and estates and trusts. In addition to his ADA claims, he claims breach of contract, on the ground the school has violated his academic freedom, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.