An Eden Prairie company has agreed to pay $95,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by federal authorities on behalf of a woman who said she was illegally fired from her office job because she needed crutches to get around the workplace after knee surgery.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in its suit that Employer Solutions Group (ESG) explained to account manager Shannon Enstad that she was fired "because she was not 100 percent healed" from surgery and asserted "without any objective evidence that [she] would be a safety risk if she returned on crutches."
Enstad, 40, of Mound, needed the crutches for a short time after surgery on an anterior cruciate ligament that she tore in February 2018, about a month after being hired on a probationary basis. She soon had surgery, was cleared medically to go back to work with no restrictions on April 30, 2018, but was quickly told she was fired, the suit alleged.
The settlement was reached Tuesday after U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel refused in August to summarily dismiss the suit and found the evidence sufficient enough to warrant a trial.
"Employers cannot make employment decisions based on speculation about an employee's disability," Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC's Chicago District, said in a statement. "All employees, including individuals with physical impairments, are entitled to be evaluated based on their ability to do the job."
Along with the payment to Enstad, terms of the settlement include a requirement that the company eliminate any policies or practices compelling employees to be fully healed before returning to work. The ESG also must train managers and other employees on the provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What the settlement does not call on the company to do is admit any wrongdoing in connection with Enstad's firing.
Julianne Bowman, district director of the EEOC's Chicago District, said, "As in this case, policies that require an employee to be 100% healed before returning to work are inconsistent with the ADA's reasonable accommodation requirement."
Enstad, in an interview with the Star Tribune in August 2019, when the suit was filed, said, "When I read the termination e-mail, I cried. 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."
Carissa Huffman, ESG's claims and benefits manager, disagreed at the time the suit was filed with much of what the EEOC was alleging, including that Enstad was fired because she needed to use crutches while at work. "We didn't receive a note from a doctor until a few days after we decided to end her employment," Huffman said.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482