Thursday, March 16, 2006

Jury awards $6.5M to panic disorder patient in job bias suit

Is our court system insane?

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (AP) - A Sonoma County health care case worker who claimed he was denied a promotion because a panic disorder prevented him from meeting clients won $6.5 million in an employment discrimination lawsuit.

A Sonoma County Superior Court jury awarded George Alberigi, 52, of Forestville $1.5 million in lost wages and $5 million for pain and suffering and other damages.

Alberigi was diagnosed in 1986 with panic disorder and agoraphobia, a fear of public places. He accused the county of bias in failing to accommodate his disability.

For most of 14 years with the county's Human Services Department, Alberigi was allowed to interview Medi-Cal clients by phone, but a promotion he applied for in 2001 required meeting clients in person.

He was denied the promotion and eventually went on permanent medical disability. He sued the county in 2003.

The county will likely seek a new trial, County Counsel Steven Woodside said Wednesday.

"Everyone around here was stunned by the verdict, particularly the amount of the verdict, which we think is excessive," he said.

Alberigi also won attorney fees, which could add another six figures to the county's cost, said his lawyer, Steve Murphy of San Francisco.

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