Heartless: Employer Unlawfully Fired Employee Following Surgery, EEOC Alleges in ADA Lawsuit

Had this employer shown a little more heart, maybe it wouldn’t find itself in court opposite the federal government fending off a disability discrimination lawsuit.

A company operating in Duluth, Minn., violated civil rights law when it fired an employee because of his perceived disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed in Minnesota on Wednesday.

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the employee worked for Lake States Lumber from August 2008 to February 2016. Lake States Lumber, based in Duluth, is owned by BlueLinx Corp., which is headquartered in Marietta, Ga. The company is a manufacturer and wholesale distributor of lumber and wood products.

The employee, who has a heart condition, went on leave to have heart surgery. He was released by his doctors to return to work with no restrictions. However, when he returned to work, managers placed restrictions on 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. BlueLinx Corp., d/b/a Lake States Lumber, Inc., Civil Action No. 0:19-cv-01549) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief.

“Restricting an employee’s ability to work and then firing him because the company regards him as disabled violates the ADA,” said Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago District. “This type of discrimination deprives people of employment opportunities because of myths and stereo¬≠types about disability, and that’s neither lawful nor acceptable.”

Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District, said, “An employer cannot fire an employee simply because of a physical impairment that does not affect his ability to perform the job. The EEOC will continue to enforce the ADA and prosecute such violations of the law.”

The EEOC’s legal team in its Minneapolis Area Office will conduct the litigation under the management of the agency’s Chicago District Office. That 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.

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