Judge: Baltimore County must pay $520K in attorney fees from lawsuit filed by former employee

A federal judge is ordering Baltimore County government to pay more than $520,000 in attorney fees and court costs to a former employee who successfully sued the county under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ruling this week from a U.S. district judge brings the total that the county must pay out in the case to more than $1.3 million.

Former county employee Dianne Von Rossum had successfully sued the county for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying supervisors refused her requests to switch offices when she experienced a severe allergic reaction to new paint and carpeting in the county’s Jefferson Building in Towson.

Van Rossum was hired by the county in 1980 and worked as a food plans review specialist, evaluating architectural plans for restaurants and inspecting them before opening.

Van Rossum said that while working in an office at the county courthouse in Towson in 2009, she experienced pain, reduced vision, numbness and “brain fog” that she attributed to mold and fungus in the building.

Van Rossum said in her lawsuit that when her department was moved to the fourth floor of the nearby Jefferson Building later that year, her symptoms worsened.

Van Rossum said she had pain, severe headaches and “cognitive and neurological impairments that affect thinking and working,” according to her lawsuit. She said others had complained about the odor and fumes in the building from new carpet and fresh paint.

The lawsuit said she made a request to move to another floor of the Jefferson Building, which initially was granted. But a manager later required her to return to the fourth floor. She was reassigned to the position of field inspector and eventually was required to return to the fourth floor or risk discipline.

Van Rossum said in her lawsuit that she was forced into early retirement in 2010 — three months’ shy of qualifying for a full county pension.

A federal jury ruled in Van Rossum’s favor this year, finding the county did not provide a “reasonable accommodation” to Van Rossum under the Americans with Disabilities Act, discriminated against her and retaliated against her.

The jury awarded her more than $780,000 — $530,053 in economic damages and $250,000 for pain and suffering.

In the ruling this week, a judge ordered the county to also pay $487,616.25 in attorneys’ fees and $32,472.30 in litigation expenses.

Van Rossum was represented by the private law firm of Kirkland & Ellis and the nonprofit Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

Attorneys for the county had opposed some of the calculations Van Rossum’s lawyers made in their request for fees. U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel wrote in his ruling that the county’s arguments were not persuasive, and he awarded all of the fees that Van Rossum requested.

A spokeswoman said Wednesday that the county plans to appeal the outcome of the entire lawsuit. If that appeal is successful, the county would also not have to pay the lawyers’ fees.

pwood@baltsun.com

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