from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Jeffrey D.
appeal from the grant of a motion for judgment
notwithstanding the verdict.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and George A. Carroll, Assistant
Attorney General, for appellants.
Albrecht, Brooke Timmer (until withdrawal), and Whitney
Judkins (until withdrawal) of Fiedler & Timmer, P.L.L.C.,
Johnston, for appellee.
by Mullins P.J., McDonald, J., and Danilson, S.J. [*]
State of Iowa and Iowa State University (herein collectively
referred to as ISU) appeal from the entry of judgment
notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) in favor of former
employee Luann Huss on her claims of disability
discrimination and failure to accommodate.
worked for ISU in various positions from 1986 to 2014. In
2006, Huss began to regularly experience a runny nose, dry
eyes, fatigue, and headaches. She attributed these conditions
to her work environment. By 2010, Huss's symptoms
worsened, and she also experienced pain in her teeth and jaw,
tingling and numbness around her lips, a raspy voice, and
heavy breathing. After bringing her difficulties to a
supervisor's attention, ISU conducted air-quality testing
in 2010 and 2011 in her work area. These tests revealed a
normal amount of mold when compared to mold levels outdoors.
In an effort to improve Huss's work environment, ISU
dusted, vacuumed, cleaned the office, and hired a company to
clean the air handling unit and vacuum the air ducts. In
September 2012, ISU conducted further testing for mold and
volatile organic compounds. The test results were normal and
consistent with other university buildings.
ISU's efforts, Huss continued to suffer from her
symptoms. ISU undertook additional remediation efforts
totaling $30, 000. During the remediation, Huss relocated to
another office space. Upon completion of the remediation
efforts, Huss moved back into her office for a couple of days
before requesting a respirator. She was provided a half-mask
received treatment from a physician during this time period.
Huss's physician described Huss's impairment as
"severe allergies to mold spore exposure" and
recommended that Huss "indefinitely" move offices
to a building without mold and wear "protective gear
when exposure occurs." Upon her physician's
recommendation, Huss was placed on medical leave in October
2013. Huss returned to work on January 2, 2014 and was there
for less than two hours before she suffered a severe
reaction. She was again placed on medical leave until April
5, 2014. Around this time, she applied for long-term
disability benefits. In support of this claim, Huss's
physician indicated, for the first time, Huss "developed
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity," also called
"Toxicant Induced loss of Tolerance." The physician
also made recommendations to ISU: "In view of Luann
Huss' severe disabling environmental allergy, I recommend
that her office be moved, and she be relocated to an area
that does not seem to trigger acute reactions." The
physician never submitted any documentation of disability
ran out of accrued leave on March 13, 2014 and failed to
return to work. Subsequently, ISU terminated Huss's
filed an action for disability discrimination, failure to
accommodate, and retaliation. Following a seven-day jury
trial, Huss moved for directed verdict, which the district
court denied. The jury then returned a unanimous verdict in
favor of ISU on all three claims. Huss filed a motion for
JNOV and new trial. The district court granted the motion for
JNOV, concluding Huss proved each element of her
disability-discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims
and that no reasonable mind could differ as to the findings
on each element based on the evidence presented. The district
court relied heavily on the testimony of Peter Englin,
director of the Department of Residence. The court called
Englin's testimony "as close to a Perry Mason moment
as I have seen in 27 years of the practice of law." The
relevant testimony was as follows:
Q. Are you aware [Huss] asked to be moved to Friley to be in
the same building as you?
A. No, but . . .
Q. That could have beenâ
A. It seems -
Q.âa reasonableâcould that have been a reasonable
accommodation if it was important that she be close to you
and able to respond.
Q. So she could have been reasonably accommodated by being
relocated to Friley Hall?
A. I believe so, yes.
Q. And then that would have enabled her to continue working
with her team, would have been a minute away, in Helser?
Q. So why did you refuse to place her in Friley?
A. As I shared, I didn't know that she requested to be
in Friley. And as I understand, when a request came in
about office space-because we are continually looking at
locations to house folks-the two spaces we had: One was a