Company Refused to Allow Employee to Return After Heart Attack and Fired Him Instead, Federal Agency Charges
MINNEAPOLIS - A Minneapolis-based distributor violated federal civil rights law by not allowing an employee to return to work after he had a heart attack, and instead firing him because of his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed here today.
According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Timothy E. Collins worked for Baldwin Supply at its Hibbing, Minn., location from April 2011 to July 2011 as a laborer, installing conveyor belts. EEOC Chicago District Office Director John Rowe, who managed the federal agency's pre-suit administrative investigation, said Collins had a heart attack on July 21, 2011 and was released by his doctor to return to work with no restrictions on August 8 of that year. Rowe said Collins provided his doctor's note to Baldwin Supply and contacted the company by telephone to let it know he was available to work.
"Our investigation indicated that the employer did not allow Collins to return to work, except for one or two days," said Rowe. "Collins contacted the company's managers on several occasions about returning to work, but the company did not contact him any further regarding returning to work. The EEOC asserts that Baldwin Supply's reasons for not allowing Collins to work were a pretext for disability discrimination. The real reason was that he had a heart attack, and so the employer regarded him as disabled."
Baldwin Supply's alleged conduct violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects employees from discrimination based on their actual or perceived disabilities. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Baldwin Supply Co.; Civil Action No. 0:14-cv-02138 (JRT-HB)) 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, "We're alleging that Mr. Collins was fully capable of performing his job, notwithstanding his having had-like millions of other men-a heart attack. The problem in our view is that Baldwin Supply, having learned of the heart attack, regarded Collins as disabled and put him on the street. That's a non-starter under the Americans with Disabilities Act."
According to company information, Baldwin Supply is a distributor of mechanical power transmission, conveyor belt and electrical control products in the United States. The company is headquartered in Minneapolis and has facilities in Minneapolis, Owatonna, St. Cloud and Hibbing, Minn. It also has facilities in Fargo, N.D., Sioux Falls, S.D., and Des Moines, Iowa.
The EEOC's legal team in its Minneapolis Area Office will conduct the litigation under the management of the agency's Chicago District Office. That 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.