A Minneapolis firefighter injured and forced into early retirement because he wasn’t allowed to wear prescribed shoes will be able to pursue a disability discrimination claim against the city, the state’s highest court has ruled.
On Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on a 5-2 majority that employees are able to sue separately under the state workers’ compensation law and the Minnesota Human Rights Act’s disability protection. The court overruled its own decision made 30 years earlier, which said the workers’ compensation provision barred employees from making both claims at once.
Keith Daniel, 57, sued the city in 2015 for injuries he received when his deputy chief said he could no longer wear doctor-prescribed shoes because they violated the department’s policy on footwear. He injured his ankle and later his shoulder while climbing down a fire truck and went into early retirement the following year.
The city paid him about $125,000 to settle the workers’ compensation claim, but the discrimination ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Daniel’s attorney, Joshua R. Williams, said the court’s ruling was a win for both his client and for workers across the state.
“Prior to this case, Minnesota employers were allowed to discriminate against their employees based on an immutable characteristic, specifically a disability,” he said. “This decision really helps bring Minnesota into the 21st century when it comes to anti-discrimination jurisprudence.”
City Attorney Susan Segal, who would not comment on the pending litigation, said the fire department needs to balance employee safety with response times during calls.
“The department is continuously looking at ways to ensure employee safety, to ensure performance … and taking very seriously individual needs for accommodation,” she said.
A jury will hear Daniel’s case in Hennepin County District Court.
“I’m just glad he’s going to get that opportunity,” Williams said. “He’s just a real solid guy who loved being a firefighter.”