Clark County commission settles UMC claustrophobia lawsuit

A woman who claimed that University Medical Center refused to take the needed steps to ease the severe claustrophobia she suffered while working in a cubicle will receive a $150,000 settlement.

While employed as a medical data technician, Jayne Feshold complained to her supervisors at the county hospital in 2007 that the cubicle she recently had moved into caused her acute anxiety, interfering with her job.

Two doctors diagnosed her symptoms as rooted in claustrophobia.

Despite that, managers in two different jobs at the hospital wouldn't accommodate her malady by moving her to more open spaces, Feshold said in her lawsuit. In 2008, she was fired.

County counsel Mary-Anne Miller noted Tuesday that Feshold had documentation to back her claims. She recommended that the county settle for $150,000.

Commissioners, including a wary Steve Sisolak, approved the settlement.

"This seems ridiculous on the surface," Sisolak said. "I don't want to open the floodgates. I can't imagine there are any merits in this."

He questioned whether claustrophobia is a legitimate medical ailment.

If carefully documented, Miller said, claustrophobia is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And if the employer fails to take the necessary steps to accommodate the worker's condition, a jury could find in the person's favor, she added.

After the meeting, Commissioner Susan Brager said she wasn't worried about the county setting a precedent for people who work in cubicles to file bogus lawsuits against their employers.

"She had documentation; she had doctors attest to it," Brager said. "She had a lot of proof."

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said heads of the county's human resources and other departments must be trained to respond properly to those kinds of impairments.

"Not all disabilities are visible or tied directly to a physical problem," Giunchigliani said.

Miller said procedures for handling such illnesses are already in place; they just failed in this case.

"We learned a lot from this, and I don't think we'll be making that same mistake again," Miller said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@review or 702-455-4519.