Former Minneapolis firefighter Keith Daniel spent five years fighting City Hall over a pair of tennis shoes.
On Friday, his legal battle ended with the city agreeing to pay Daniel and his attorneys $785,000 to close the disability discrimination case.
“For me, it was hard to believe that we went all through this for a pair of … tennis shoes,” Daniel, 59, said in an interview Friday afternoon. “I’m just glad it’s over with, and I hope the verdict that I received sends a message to the city so someone else doesn’t have to go through this.”
Years ago, Daniel had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right ankle. He joined the Minneapolis Fire Department in 2001. In 2011, Daniel twisted that ankle when he was searching a house after a tornado struck north Minneapolis.
His ankle problems didn’t stop there. According to his suit, Daniel aggravated his injury on the job in August 2014. After that, a doctor gave him a prescription to wear tennis shoes at the fire station to “provide greater support and comfort for his ankle.”
City firefighters are required to wear black leather work boots as part of their uniform, according to a city document filed in the lawsuit.
According to the suit, the department denied Daniel’s footwear request. Daniel reinjured his ankle when he was working at the station house in 2015. The department eventually agreed to allow him to wear the tennis shoes, but then reversed its decision, and Daniel “suffered another setback in connection with his ankle injury during work hours,” according to the suit.
He retired from the department because of his injuries and filed suit against the city.
The case took a winding journey through the state’s court system, including the Minnesota Supreme Court, before it went to trial in Hennepin County in October. A jury ruled that the city was liable for discrimination and for failing to accommodate Daniel under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Legal wrangling continued over the amount the city would pay in damages.
“This case has been in appellate purgatory for a good two, two-and-a-half years while we went up and down the system,” said Joshua Williams, Daniel’s attorney.
That fighting ended Friday, when, without comment, the City Council approved the settlement for Daniel and his attorneys. Mayor Jacob Frey will approve the settlement within days, according to spokesman Darwin Forsyth.
Daniel said he knows other firefighters who have had similar problems and hopes the city will make changes to prevent future cases like his.
“I guess I would like to see them not use a person’s disability to help cut the costs of their payroll,” he said.
In a statement, Interim City Attorney Erik Nilsson said the city was “constantly evaluating its policies and practices to ensure compliance with the law.”
Daniel said the past five years have been emotional, especially as his family dealt with his stress-related mood swings.
He plans to use his settlement money on his wife and son.
“If I was 21, I would buy a new car,” he said. “I’m 59. I’ve lived my life. It’s for my family.”
He’s been spending his retirement focused on them while his health rebounds. He’s coaching his son’s basketball team. He plans to shovel the snow that falls this weekend.
“I’m fine health-wise,” he said. “I can do everything that I did prior to this injury — with the proper footwear.”