HUNTLEY, Ill. — Richard Jankowski sued his former employer, dairy giant Dean Foods, for illegal discrimination.
In October 2019, a federal jury ruled against the company and awarded him more than $3 million.
But nearly three years later, Jankowski has yet to see a dime.
“I don’t even sleep at night,” he says. “I think about this all the time.”
It all began after Dean Foods hired Jankowski in 2002 as a general dairy worker at its Huntley location.
He was injured on the job for first time “lifting and throwing heavy skids,” according to his lawsuit. But he returned to work after recovering from spinal fusion surgery.
“A lot of people get injured doing these types of jobs because it’s a hard job,” he says. “It’s very physical. Everything you do there is heavy.”
To his point, Jankowski hurt his back and neck again in 2009 and needed a second surgery. Doctors eventually cleared him to work, though with limits on how much he could lift.
But Jankowski claims Dean’s wouldn’t let him return. In 2016, he was notified that he was no longer an employee, according to the lawsuit.
He sued the company for “illegal discrimination” and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He won his case.
Before he could collect, Dean’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a month after the verdict, in November 2019. It’s not believed the move was a result of Jankowski’s judgment. At the time, Dean’s was the nation’s largest milk producer but declining sales were hurting revenues.
“Unfortunately, he’s been in line with all the other unsecured creditors since then,” says Timothy Coffey, Jankowski’s attorney.
Coffey says that’s the problem with the way bankruptcy law works. Claims like Jankowski’s are not prioritized, meaning he can’t collect until the bankruptcy case is over.
And even then it’s unknown when and how much he may collect.
There was no comment from Dean Foods representatives.