The Minnesota Supreme Court just held that Minnesota’s workers’ compensation laws do not bar Minnesota workers from bringing state disability discrimination claims against their employers. In so ruling, the Minnesota Supreme Court overruled its own decision from 1980, Karst v. F.C. Hayer Co. – a decision that for the last three decades had been used by employers to avoid reasonably accommodating employees with disabilities and avoid being held accountable for discrimination.
In the recent Daniel v. City of Minneapolis case, a Minneapolis firefighter had injured his ankle on the job and he was prescribed “tennis shoes with arch support + high rescue boot high ankle” to reduce his pain and improve his ankle stability. After wearing the tennis shoes around the station for six to eight weeks, his superiors told him that his shoes did not comply with the department uniform policy. After switching back to the standard shoes, he again injured his ankle and, then later, while nursing the re-injured ankle, he lost his footing while climbing down from a fire truck and seriously injured his shoulder. The fire department placed him on light duty, but refused to allow him to wear his prescription tennis shoes. Without the shoes, the light duty work fell outside of his physical restrictions and, thus, the department placed him on leave instead and told him he could return when he could do the work while wearing the department’s standard shoes. The firefighter tried to work with the department but could not find shoes that met the department’s uniform policy and his prescription.
Following the department’s refusal to allow him to return with his prescription shoes, the firefighter initiated a lawsuit for failure to accommodate his disability pursuant to the Minnesota Human Rights Act. After the lower courts heard the case, the Minnesota Supreme Court overruled its own 1980 Karst decision, and held that an employee could in fact bring a claim of disability discrimination under state law, even when the initial injury causing the disability and need for accommodations had occurred on the job. Prior to this decision, the exclusive remedy for the firefighter would have been the workers’ compensation laws, which made clear from the facts of this case, failed to fully protect the employee and provide a full remedy for the employer’s conduct and the employee’s damages.
This is a great result for Minnesota workers and a clear step forward in ensuring the protections against discrimination granted to them by the Minnesota Human Rights Act.