Bayhealth effort to nix 300K award to ex-employee denied

DOVER — Bayhealth Medical Center last week was denied in its bid to vacate results of a civil trial awarding nearly $300,000 to a former employee who claimed she was discriminated against due to a disability.

Bayhealth submitted a motion for judgment on Dec. 4 that renewed its request after an August jury trial involving plaintiff Suzanne Wilgus. In lieu of that, a new trial was sought.

In a seven-page order, however, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey C. Clark discounted five issues raised in the current action, pointing to earlier rulings as valid. Bayhealth challenged a supposed sufficiency of evidence in contesting $100,000 in punitive damages, among other contentions.

The plaintiff also received $196,285.28 in compensatory damages.

A request to Bayhealth for comment Thursday was unsuccessful.

Adherence to the Delaware Persons With Disabilities Employment Protections Act was challenged by Ms. Wilgus’s claim that “Bayhealth terminated her after refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation based on her record of a disability,” according to the Court in the order. The order asserted that Ms. Wilgus unsuccessfully asked to use a back brace at work as a neonatal intensive care nurse.

Ms. Wilgus’s assertion of “total disability” was evidenced by approximately 180 days of missed work, significant back surgery and two notes from her treating doctor, the Court determined. Bayhealth had argued that the circumstances did not meet DEPA guidelines, according to the order.

Regarding the award of punitive damages, Judge Clark said, “There was sufficient evidence at trial to support a reasonable jury’s finding that Bayhealth acted with reckless indifference to Ms. Wilgus’s rights under DEPA.”

In the latest motion, Bayhealth introduced the claim that “evidence established conclusively that Ms. Wilgus could not perform the essential functions of her employment while using the back brace.” The judge determined that substantial evidence existed for the jury to find that “she could perform all ‘physical demand functions’ listed in her job description.”


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