Ashwaubenon settles lawsuit for $600,000
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – In response to an open records request from The Press Times, the village released the details of a settlement the Ashwaubenon Village Board approved Sept. 28 with a former lieutenant who filed a federal lawsuit against the village and former Village Manager Allison Swanson.
The settlement calls for the village to pay $600,000, with two-thirds going to Scott Schermitzler and the other third to the law firm which represented him.
Schermitzler worked for Ashwaubenon Public Safety for more than 26 years before being terminated in April 2019.
He based his suit on three federal statutes – the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (Section 1983) – and Wisconsin common law related to defamation and slander.
The suit stated Schermitzler began to suffer mentally, emotionally and physically in 2018 because of the “extreme demands of his work experienced over many years.”
He was frequently the first officer on the scene at numerous car accidents, suicides, medical emergencies, fires, shootings and other incidents, the suit stated, and was ultimately diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
His primary care physician recommended in late September 2018 that Schermitzler take an immediate leave of absence from his job and promptly undergo treatment, according to the suit.
After completing his shift the morning of Oct. 1, 2018, the suit stated Schermitzler spoke with then Chief Eric Dunning, who recommended he follow his doctor’s advice and take a leave of absence.
However, the suit stated Swanson and the village denied his request for an FMLA leave of absence “and began a steady campaign of harassment, interference with rights, discrimination, and retaliation” against Schermitzler which continued until, and even after, he was terminated April 25, 2019.
The suit further stated Swanson and the village “repeatedly expressed doubts about the severity of (Schermitzler’s) medical condition, the validity of his claim to suffer from PTSD, and his entitlement to exercise his rights under the FMLA and the ADA.”
Swanson and the village suggested Schermitzler “either grossly exaggerated his medical condition or that he has falsely claimed to suffer from those symptoms and lied to his healthcare providers so that he could use his feigned medical condition to obtain an early retirement at the village’s expense,” the suit stated.
The suit further stated Swanson and the village had no medical evidence to support skepticism concerning Schermitzler and his medical condition.
A psychological fitness-for-duty evaluation summary report prepared by a psychologist retained by the village indicated he suffered from “significant psychological distress” and his condition made him “unfit for duty” as a public safety officer, according to the suit.
Schermitzler said he was “unjustifiably put through hell and back over the last three years” at the village’s, and specifically Swanson’s, expense.
Swanson resigned as village manager in July 2020, five months after the Ashwaubenon Public Safety Officers’ Association announced a vote of no confidence in her.
The suit was dismissed with prejudice Oct. 6 in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of Wisconsin, after the settlement agreement was signed by all the parties.
Within 30 days after the suit was dismissed, the settlement called for Schermitzler to receive $150,000 for lost wages and benefits and another $50,000 as compensatory damages arising from him having claimed PTSD, sleeplessness, sleep disturbances, night sweats, extreme fatigue, uncontrolled weeping, out-of-control appetite, long periods of no appetite and headaches.
Also within 30 days following the suit’s dismissal, the law firm of Conway, Olejniczak and Jerry is to receive $200,000.
After Jan. 1 and before Jan. 30, Schermitzler is to receive another $150,000 as lost wages and benefits and an additional $50,000 as compensatory damages.
The payments to Schermitzler are subject to withholdings for taxes.
The village also agreed in the settlement to not to object to Schermitzler applying for duty disability benefits.