Dean Foods ordered to pay more than $3M in damages over Wonder Lake man's suit

Dean Foods was ordered to pay more than $3 million in punitive damages as a result of a lawsuit filed by former employee Richard Jankowski of Wonder Lake, who alleged retaliation and discrimination against the milk processing facility.

According to a release from the Wheaton-based Coffey Law Office, which represents Jankowski, a jury found that Dean Foods retaliated against Jankowski by refusing to recall him back to work from August 2014 up until his termination after Jankowski had suffered an injury on the job, refused work that exceeded his medical restrictions and filed workers’ compensation claims.

A jury also found Oct. 16 that Dean Foods discriminated against Jankowski in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to engage in an “interactive process” required by the ADA and failing to accommodate his disability by refusing to return him to work in one of the open positions he was capable of performing.

“The jury heard extensive evidence that Dean Foods’ management employees created inaccurate, staged photos and misleading documents to cover up their violations of the ADA and Illinois law,” according to the release.

Jankowski alleged in 2009 that his supervisors forced him to perform a job that required him to haul about 480 pounds up an incline despite having a doctor’s note not to do so, which caused serious reinjury.

According to court records, Jankowski suffered an injury resulting in a disability after he began working with Dean Foods. He subsequently underwent surgery about August 2013 and tried to return to work with restrictions on or about August 2014, but his employer never offered him a position.

Dean Foods argued that it had no obligation to accommodate Jankowski’s permanent restrictions by making a light-duty position available to him on a permanent or indefinite basis when he returned in 2014.

A trial in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois began Sept. 30, and Jankowski rested his case Oct. 14.

The judgment was entered against Dean Foods – and its wholly owned subsidiary, Dean Dairy Holdings LLC, in the amount of $3,316,443.

“The jury also sent a powerful message to Dean Foods, and employers generally with a $3 million punitive damages award,” according to the release. “Such awards are intended to punish and deter when evidence of willful and wanton or reckless misconduct is presented.”