Lake States Lumber to Pay $100,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Employee Was Fired Due to Perceived Disability, Federal Agency Charged

MINNEAPOLIS – Lake States Lumber, Inc., a company operating in Duluth, Minn., has agreed to pay $100,000 to resolve a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

According to the EEOC’s suit, an employee who worked for Lake States Lumber, a manufacturer and wholesale distributor of lumber and wood products, took leave for heart surgery. After surgery, his doctors released him to return to work with no restrictions, but managers restricted his ability to work and assigned him to a different job. Nine days later, he was fired, the EEOC said.

This alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it unlawful to discriminate against or terminate an employee because he or she has a disability, a record of a disability, or is regarded as disabled. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Lake States Lumber, Inc., Civil Action No. 19-cv-01549 (NEB/LIB) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

Besides the monetary relief, the two-year consent decree settling the suit, entered by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy E. Brasel, requires that in the future, Lake States Lumber will not require employees to be released without restrictions or be 100% healthy prior to returning to work. The consent decree also requires training on the ADA for management personnel and employees, and that the company report disability discrimination complaints to the EEOC during the term of the decree.

“It is an unfortunate reality that even when an employee who has been on disability leave is able to return to work without any restriction at all, many employers continue to regard that employee as unable to work in the same capacity as prior to the leave,” said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “The consent decree sends the message that no type of disability discrimination, including this variety, will be tolerated in the workplace. The EEOC will continue to enforce the ADA and enforce such violations of the law when they arise.”

Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District, added, “This type of discrimination deprives people of employment opportunities because of myths and stereotypes about disability, and employers should know that it is illegal under federal law.”

The litigation was conducted by the EEOC’s legal team in its Minneapolis Area Office, which includes EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Tina Burnside and Trial Attorney Adrienne Kaufman, under the management of the agency’s Chicago District Office, which includes Supervisory Trial Attorney Deborah Hamilton. The Chicago District Office is responsible for processing charges of discrimination, administrative enforcement and litigation in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, with Area Offices in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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