Lawsuit claims woman was fired from her job because she needed to use crutches

A woman claims that her employer wrongfully terminated her for having to use crutches after a knee surgery, violating federal law. (Photo: Getty)
A woman claims that her employer wrongfully terminated her for having to use crutches after a knee surgery, violating federal law. (Photo: Getty)

A Minnesota payroll company will go to court after a lawsuit was filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a woman who claims she was terminated from her job because she needed to use crutches following knee surgery. According to EEOC's lawsuit, Employer Solutions Group., LLC (ESG), head­quartered in Eden Prairie, Minn., violated federal law for terminating the employee in 2018.

In February of 2018, Shannon Enstad tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), according to City Pages, an injury that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). By April 30, 2018, she was medically cleared to return to work as an account manager with the use of crutches.

However, according to the lawsuit, the company stated the 38-year-old woman was "not 100 percent healed" from the surgery and that she would "without any objective evidence... be a safety risk if she returned on crutches."

Enstad realized that with the crutches and the pain she experienced from the surgery, she would not be able to get around as easily as she used to and she would not be able to lift many things as before. But as an account manager, who typically manages sales and customer relationships for a company, it wasn't unreasonable to assume that Enstad would be able to fulfill her duties with limited mobility.

Instead, she received a termination notice.

"When I read the termination e-mail, I cried," Enstad told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "I couldn't believe what I was reading, especially, since I had just spoken with ESG the same day and was told they were excited to have me back. ... I was full of emotions: sadness, anger, hurt and humiliated."

On Wednesday, the EEOC filed the lawsuit, EEOC v. Employer Solutions Group, LLC, Case No. 0:19-cv-02315, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota claiming that firing an employee due to real or perceived disability violates the ADA.

Carissa Huffman, ESG’s claims and benefits manager, however, disputes the claims made in the lawsuit. While ESG did not immediately respond to Yahoo Lifestyle’s requests for comment, Huffman informed the Star-Tribune that the company "didn't receive a note from a doctor until a few days after we decided to end her employment."

Huffman went on to say that Enstad, at least twice, gave the company a return date before she changed her mind and that the termination was a result of the company not knowing "when or if she ever was going to return to work."

According to the Star-Tribune, the EEOC attempted to settle with the company before filing the suit.

“The issue here was so minor,” said Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC’s Chicago office. “This employee needed to use crutches for a short time after returning from short-term disability leave. The employer fired her for it, which was inappropriate, shortsighted and unlawful.”

Greg Gochanour, the regional attorney for the EEOC, went on to say that "even relatively short-termed impairments" are recognized under the ADA "if they are sufficiently severe." He added, in Enstad's case, they were.

According to Enstad, her termination resulted in "stress, lost wages and the uncertainty of not knowing how long it would take to find work." She added that she feared how she would take care of her family. She found new employment seven months after her termination from ESG.

The EEOC seeks to have Enstad reinstated at her former job, and for her to receive back pay, benefits, and compensation for "emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and humiliation."

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