Case File: Disability Discrimination
An employer's failure to provide an employee with an accommodation after receiving documentation from a doctor lead to a $100,000 settlement.
Frank, who worked as a service coordinator for an electrical contractor, struggled with anxiety and was advised by his doctor to stay home, pending the outcome of a change in his medication. He had hoped to be back at work in a couple of days, but as his illness continued, the days stretched into several weeks. He called his employer regularly, inquired about the company's medical leave policies, and provided doctor's notes as requested.
Then, about a week before he had planned to return to work, he received a letter from the company's president, informing him that they could no longer hold his position open. Frank had been fired.
That day he called the company's president, who seemed unaware that he had been out of work due to a medical condition. Relax, the senior executive allegedly said -- he would check into the situation and get back to Frank. In a conversation that followed, the president allegedly told him to get a doctor's note saying he could return to work with no restriction. Frank complied, and felt ready to return in a few days. Then another phone call came: the company was sticking to its original decision to terminate Frank "due to the economy," the president allegedly said.
In a charge filed with the Department of Human Rights, Frank (not his real name) charged that he had been terminated due to his disability. He pointed out that despite the company's "bad economy" claim, it had advertised for two positions while Frank was on leave, including a warehouse coordinator job the he qualified to perform.
The Department of Human Rights found there was probable cause to believe the company has discriminated against Frank. Although it was aware of his disability, it had failed to engage in an interactive process to accommodate his limitations, as required by law.
In addition, the company had given a series of various justifications for terminating Frank's employment. It could no longer hold his position open because of his absences, the company initially said. Then it said Frank had been terminated due to a poor economy. Then it cited "excessive absenteeism." Finally the company maintained that Frank had been fired for poor performance, but there was no record of communication among company managers suggest any performance issues.
In a settlement negotiated with the Department of Human Rights, the company agreed to pay Frank and his attorneys $100,000. It also agreed to provide training for its managers, supervisors and human resources personnel on employer obligations under the disability provisions of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The company denies that it violated the Act, and the settlement does not constitute an admission of any wrongdoing.