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June: A judge reinstated a foreman at an Omaha wastewater treatment plant after he'd been caught on hidden camera repeatedly taking naps at work. The city had not properly disclosed the evidence against him before a pre-termination hearing, said the judge. The worker also claimed that his persistent dozing was the result of a sleep disorder.
Marthe Kent, director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's safety standards program and head of the agency's controversial ergonomics initiative, told a trade publication that issuing a regulation "is a thrill; it's a high." She added: "I love it; I absolutely love it. I was born to regulate. I don't know why, but that's very true. So as long as I'm regulating, I'm happy."
A court in Sydney, Australia, awarded the equivalent of $15,600 in compensation to a spa masseuse who said she suffered stress and depression from having to hear clients gripe about their personal problems.
The Washington Post reported that most of the campaign Web sites of politicians who vocally support disabled rights fail to heed even minimal guidelines for disabled accessibility. Among the sites in question were those of George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Ralph Nader.
Disabled activists in New Haven, Connecticut, lodged a complaint against the schooner Amistad, a traveling historical exhibit, saying it was not wheelchair-accessible. The original Amistad was the scene of a famous slave revolt in the mid-1800s and its recreated version is meant to evoke the overcrowding and other inhumane conditions of the slave trade.
August: Police in Davidson, North Carolina, defended the decision to search a woman's car for drugs after an officer noticed that she had in her car a copy of a newspaper with a photo of a marijuana plant. Nothing unlawful was found.
Miami plaintiff's attorney Stanley Rosenblatt, after persuading a jury to vote a $145 billion punitive damage award against major tobacco companies, told Knight-Ridder that other legal issues so absorbed his attention that he wasn't giving any thought to the possible fees he might recover from the action.
September: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that belief in odd scientific notions, such as cold fusion or mysterious messages from UFOs, may be entitled to antidiscrimination protection on the same basis as religious belief.
A judge criticized an Indianapolis law firm for billing heirs $1.5 million for administering the estate of a wealthy businessman who died without a will, a sum that included 900 hours worth of work it says it spent calculating those very fees.
October: Owens Corning, the top maker of home insulation, filed for bankruptcy under the pressure of hundreds of thousands of asbestos lawsuits, most filed by workers with no significant illness. The previous year, 12 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee, including Reps. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), Howard Berman (Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Maxine Waters (Calif.), and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) had signed a report declaring that "there is little likelihood that asbestos liability could lead to bankruptcy" for Owens or other big companies. According to the Democrats, "the principal remaining asbestos defendants are not facing any significant threat of bankruptcy." Among other companies they named as in no danger of going broke was Armstrong World Industries, the largest maker of flooring, which proceeded to seek protection from creditors in December.
Zoning authorities in Snydersville, Pennsylvania, sent a violation notice to father and son farmers Jake and Stuart Klingel because they had carved a maze through their cornfield and opened it to the public for a fee.
November: A three-judge panel ruled that Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos did not violate the federal racketeering law by reshuffling blackjack decks frequently when they knew or suspected that patrons were counting cards, a memory technique that can improve a customer's odds of beating the house as the number of remaining undealt cards declines. Federal Judge Morton Greenberg ruled that the claims "border on the frivolous" because the New Jersey Casino Control Commission specifically authorizes casinos to reshuffle at will, because the players "can avoid any injury simply by walking away from the alleged wrongdoers, the casinos," and because the loss of the chance to make money at a casino's expense can hardly be characterized as "an injury to business or property."
December: Reversing a lower court, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that one Robert Shindler had no grounds to sue the Grand Casino Tunica for extra winnings he said he was due, in the court's words, "for a series of mini-baccarat games he played on August 22, 1997. Shindler claims that although he wanted to bet $20,000 per hand, casino personnel would only let him bet $5,000 at a time."
A federal judge ruled that although Tina Bennett had been "belligerent and displayed an unprofessional attitude" at her job, had "difficulty controlling her emotions" and was "incredibly sensitive to criticism," she was nonetheless entitled to sue arguing that these personality traits were caused by severe depression and should have been accommodated under the ADA by her employer, the Unisys Corp.