Mankato Home Health Care Provider Fired Employee Because of Her Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis, Federal Agency Charged
MINNEAPOLIS - A Minneapolis-area home health care provider violated federal civil rights law when it failed to provide a disabled employee a reasonable accommodation and instead fired her, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed here today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Laurie Goodnough has fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis that substantially limits her walking and bending. She worked for Baywood Home Care since 2007 as a home health aide in the Mankato, Minn., area. John Rowe, the EEOC Chicago district director who managed the federal agency's pre-suit administrative investigation, said that since autumn 2010, Goodnough's job duties consisted primarily of housekeeping tasks such as washing dishes, kitchen cleaning, vacuuming, and laundry, which she performed successfully, despite her limitations.
Rowe said that in early November 2011, two other Baywood employees - a registered nurse / supervisor and a community relations specialist - allegedly observed Goodnough walking with a cane, and complained to Baywood Home Care's owner. That, Rowe said, led directly to Goodnough's termination on Nov. 9.
"There does not seem to have been any interactive process here for the employer and employee to assess whether Goodnough's use of a cane interfered with her ability to perform her job, or to consider some other reasonable accommodation for her disability," said Rowe. "Instead, it was simply 'out the door.'"
This alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their disabilities and requires employers to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baywood Home Care; Civil Action No. 0:14-cv-00809) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The EEOC seeks back pay and compensatory damages and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.
John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago District, said, "Here's a case where an absence of information and a reliance on stereotypes led to trouble for both employer and employee. When management heard Ms. Goodnough used a cane, it assumed that she could not do her job. So they put her on the street and the company is now in litigation - not a happy result for anyone. That's what happens when employers fail to make analysis of job performance and available accommodations a high priority."
In addition to the discrimination against Goodnough, the EEOC's lawsuit charged that Baywood Home Care engaged in another form of unlawful discrimination under the ADA when it made unlawful inquiries of job applicants as to whether they have a disability and about the nature or severity of whatever disabilities they may have.
According to company information, Baywood Home Care provides home health care services to individuals in the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro areas, and southern Minnesota, including Albert Lea, Mankato, Fairmont, Blue Earth, Windom, Worthington, St. James, New Ulm, St. Peter, Waseca, New Prague, and Owatonna Counties.
The EEOC's legal team in its Minneapolis Area Office will conduct the litigation under the management of the agency's Chicago District Office. 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 enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.