Chalk this up as a major embarrassment and black eye against one of Newport’s storied institutions. A Superior Court jury has found that the Preservation Society of Newport County failed to accommodate a disabled employee.
A former employee with the Preservation Society of Newport County was awarded $175,000 in damages after a Superior Court jury ruled on Sept. 25 that the Bellevue Avenue-based nonprofit failed to provide reasonable accommodation in light of her disability.
Jennifer Gempp of Portsmouth was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in 2001 and multiple sclerosis (MS) in April 2014, according to court documents.
The jury also ruled that Gempp proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Maureen Sheridan— the other defendant named in the suit, listed as the Preservation Society’s director of development in the original complaint, but who retired from that position in December 2018— failed to provide reasonable accommodation to Gempp in the workplace in light her disability.
In June 2014, Gempp began chemotherapy and steroid infusions to manage her MS; the two treatments “must take place every four weeks,” according to the complaint.
“The chemotherapy and steroid infusions cause nausea, tiredness, leg stiffness, stomach irritation, and insomnia,” the complaint says. “Driving and walking are difficult for her after treatments due to leg stiffness and tiredness, and she is much more comfortable working from home during this time.”
Beginning in April 2015, Gempp was prohibited from working from home “when receiving chemotherapy and steroid infusions. This change in Ms. Gempp’s schedule constituted a loss of a reasonable accommodation,” according to the complaint. “After losing her accommodation to work from home three days per month, Ms. Gempp modified her treatment scheduled so that she received her transfusions on Friday afternoons, allowing her to work 40+ hours in the office during those weeks, and recover at home over the weekend.”
Gempp met with her doctors in November 2015; the doctors determined “she was having a relapse and that she had pushed herself too much. Her primary care doctor took her out of work until December 26, 2015, and her MS doctor ordered an additional weekly injection and three-day steroid infusion to help with the relapse symptoms,” the complaint says. Gempp’s primary doctor then lengthened her leave through February 2016 due to her MS symptoms.