Disability Discrimination in Employment in Minnesota
Minnesota is an “at-will” employment state. That means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at all – even a stupid, incorrect, unfair, or unethical reason – provided that it’s not an illegal reason.
One illegal reason for making any employment decision about an employee is disability discrimination. Your employer can’t make any decision about you – including hiring, termination, pay, raises, leave, suspension, hours, or discipline – on the basis of disability discrimination. If you believe you were fired due to your disability, contact a Minneapolis employment lawyer from Madia Law to fight for you.
What is Disability Discrimination?
Under both Minnesota and federal law, you have the right to keep working at your job – regardless of your disability or injury – so long as you’re able perform the essential functions of your job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Essential Functions of your job
The essential functions of your job include the main tasks that you do at work. Think about your average day at work, from the time you get there to the time you leave – what do you spend most of your time on? What are your fundamental job duties? Generally, the tasks that you spend the most time on that go to the core of your position are essential functions. Essential functions doesn’t include every single thing that you do at work, though: if you only rarely have to do certain things, those tasks are not considered essential functions.
Courts look at several things to determine if a task is an essential function of an employee’s job, including: the job description, amount of time spent doing the task, and the work experience of others who have the same job.
If you have a disability but are still capable of performing the essential functions of your job – and don’t need any accommodations – that’s fantastic. Your employer cannot discriminate against you or make any employment decisions about you based on your disability.
For a legal consultation with a disability discrimination lawyer serving Minneapolis, call 612-349-2729
What if I have lifting or bending restrictions and can’t perform the essential functions of my job?
Even if you have a disability and are not capable of performing the essential functions of your job, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Minnesota Human Rights Act still offer protection. The question then becomes whether you’re capable of performing the essential functions of your job with a reasonable accommodation.
Your employer needs to engage in an “interactive process” with you where it sits down with you to discuss: the essential functions of your job, your disability, your restrictions or limitations, and possible reasonable accommodations that would allow you to continue performing your job’s essential functions.
For example, a common physical restriction in disability cases is lifting restrictions. Sometimes physicians will issue restrictions stating that a worker can’t lift more than 15 or 20 pounds. If you have a job where an essential function is to lift sandbags that weigh 40 pounds, your employer would need to sit down with you and engage in an interactive process to see if there’s a reasonable accommodation that would allow you to continue to do the job. Reasonable accommodations can include: new ways of doing the task, equipment that can help do the task, working from home, different hours, transfer or reassignment, medical leave, or getting assistance from coworkers.
In the case of the sandbags, a reasonable accommodation may be for the employer to just purchase 20 lb. sandbags instead of 40 lb. sandbags. Or another reasonable accommodation might be for the employer to get a wheelbarrow that allows you to move the sandbags without lifting them. The main point of the interactive process is for you and your employer to creatively think about new ways of doing the job or equipment or other means of doing the job that will allow you to continue performing the job’s essential functions even with your disability.
Minneapolis Disability Discrimination Lawyer Near Me 612-349-2729
What’s Considered a Disability? How do I Know if I’m Disabled?
A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Your condition doesn’t need to prevent – or even significantly restrict – you from performing a major life activity to be considered substantially limiting. Major life activities include: caring for yourself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working.
If your condition makes it harder for you to perform major life activities, then you probably are considered disabled under the ADA.
How Do I Prove a Disability Discrimination in Employment Claim?
A great place to start is the interactive process: many employers totally ignore or forget about this requirement of the ADA. An employee will get injured and come back with doctor’s restrictions. Instead of sitting down with the employee and discussing the essential functions of their job, their restrictions, and possible accommodations, the employer will either terminate the employee or put the employee on unpaid leave. This failure to engage in the interactive process creates a presumption of unlawful disability discrimination.
Second, we look at the real essential functions of your job – not just what the employer puts in the job description. The employer might say that lifting 25 lbs. is an essential function of your job in the job description, but that’s incorrect unless you’re a weightlifter. Essential functions should refer to actual tasks in the completion of your job: for example, lifting salt bags. We explore through discovery what employees in your position actually do on a day to day basis to determine what the real essential functions of your job are.
Then, we’ll compare your restrictions to the essential functions and see if you could do the job without accommodation. If yes, great. If your employer terminated you anyway, you’ve got a strong case for disability discrimination.
If not, we’ll consider reasonable accommodations – including different ways of doing the job; equipment; leave; working from home; transfer; or assistance from coworkers – to see if they would have permitted you to perform the essential functions of your job. We oftentimes retain an expert to give an opinion on available accommodations that would have allowed you to continue in your position. If an accommodations was available, and the employer didn’t consider or use it before terminating you, you’ve got a solid case.
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Can My Employer Fire Me if I Make a Disability Discrimination Claim?
No. The ADA and Minnesota Human Rights Act both contain anti-retaliation provisions. If your employer terminates you for making a complaint of discrimination or asking for accommodations, then you’ve got a retaliation case in addition to your disability discrimination case.
How Much is My Disability Discrimination Case Worth?
This is absolutely a good question to ask as you make a decision on whether to pursue a case in court or not. Starting an employment case is a big decision and you should know what your potential return is for the investment of your time and energy.
The short answer is that the value of your case depends on a lot of things, like:
- the strength of your case on the merits;
- the amount of damages you’ve suffered;
- whether your employer has the ability to pay a large amount; and
- your tolerance for risk.
We get this question so much that we’ve created a separate, detailed page going through each of these factors, right here.
For employment disability discrimination claims, you may be entitled to back pay and front pay damages, emotional distress compensation, treble damages under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, punitive damages under both the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and your attorney fees and costs. You may even be entitled to get your job back.
What’s an Average Settlement for a Disability Discrimination Case?
That’s a tough question to answer because there’s really no “average” settlement. The value of an employment disability discrimination case depends on the strength of the case; the damages the employee suffered; the ability of the employer to pay a large amount (if the employer is insured, even better); and the employee’s tolerance for risk and willingness to go to trial. Here’s a detailed breakdown of those factors.
But we know that many employees looking for answers right now just want to see some numbers from actual settlements, so here are some numbers.
- We represented a woman, “Jill,” who worked at a Fortune 100 company for 20 years as a maintenance worker. She injured her back on the job and needed medical attention. Her doctor gave her medical restrictions for work saying that she couldn’t lift, push, or pull more than 40 pounds. She continued working at her job, with her restrictions, and continued to excel, as her position didn’t require her to lift more than 40 pounds. One morning, her employer called her into a meeting and told her that she was terminated because her medical restrictions prevented her from performing the essential functions of her job. Her employer didn’t engage in any interactive process at all. We litigated the case all the way through summary judgment. After we beat the defense motion, the employer settled with Jill for $400,000.
Please note that just because this employee received the above result doesn’t mean that’s what your case is worth. This is just an example. Your case value depends on a number of things.
What is the Statute of Limitations for a Disability Discrimination Case?
You need to move quickly on these. In Minnesota, you’ve got just one year from the date of the wrongful termination or last discriminatory act to bring a lawsuit or file a claim with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. You’ve only got 300 days from the date of the termination or last discriminatory act to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if you want to bring federal claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What Should I do if I’ve Been the Victim of Disability Discrimination at Work?
First of all, if you’re searching for answers right now after losing your job, we’re very sorry that you’re in this position. We know how tough it is to lose your job, especially when you’ve got family and other financial obligations. It’s especially frustrating and hurtful when the termination is discriminatory.
Second, make sure that take advantage of state benefits designed to help people going through tough times. Apply for unemployment benefits. And, contact COBRA to make sure you and your family are covered for health insurance.
Third, write everything down that happened to you. Write down the date that you were terminated, who terminated you, what they precisely said was the reason for your termination, and who else was present. Write down whether you think the reason your employer gave you was accurate or not, and why. Write down the names of employees that you think may have useful information. Write down the types of documents or emails that you think may have good information about your case. Write down everything – the reason for this is that your memory will probably fade over time and you want to document things while they’re fresh in your mind. If you pursue a lawsuit, your trial likely won’t be for at least 12 to 18 months, so you want to have something that you can refer to – write everything down.
Fourth, immediately send a letter or email request to your employer requesting your personnel file and the reason for your termination. Under Minnesota law, your employer needs to provide it to you. If your employer hasn’t paid you all of your wages or given you your last paycheck, make sure to request those wages in writing also (by letter or email).
Fifth, call us to talk about your case.
Contact Our Minnesota and Wisconsin Employment and Disability Discrimination Attorneys.
You must act quickly when it comes to employment claims. If you wait, there may be strict statutes of limitation that will bar you from filing any claim at all against your employer. Call Madia Law today to discuss your case.
First, contact our office and tell us about your situation. You’ll talk with our staff for about 5-10 minutes. They’ll get some basic information about you and your case.
There’s some information that we’ll need when you call. We will want to know who you worked for, what kind of work you did, for how long worked there, how much you earned, if/when you were terminated, the reason given by your employer for any discipline and termination, and why do you think your employer did something unlawful or wrongful. If you have this information handy, it will allow us to proceed more quickly.
We will get back to you shortly – usually within a few hours. If your potential case is a little outside of our wheelhouse, we may refer you to attorneys, agencies, or organizations that we think might be better suited to handle your situation. Our goal is to ensure you get the best and most appropriate help possible for your particular situation. If that’s not us, we’ll try to tell you immediately and point you in the right direction.
If we think that we might be able help you, we’ll set an appointment for you to talk with one of our employment lawyers. We’ll discuss your case, and give you our honest assessment of its strengths, weaknesses, and value. If we then mutually agree that Madia Law will represent you, we will talk about the process of moving forward with your case.
When you talk with our employment lawyers, please be sure to have all relevant documents that you have in your possession. For example, that could include: pay-stubs, personnel files, employment handbooks/policies, letters from your employer (including your termination letter), any text messages or emails that you think are important, and any other documents that you think might be helpful.