Minnesota Company Settles Service Animal Complaint
St Paul (KROC AM News) - A Minnesota company has agreed to pay a former employee $75,000 for telling her she could not bring her service animal to work.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has announced a settlement agreement with Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s St. Paul Park refinery after the company violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by discriminating against Laura Ritt.
She is an Air Force veteran with a service-related disability and filed a complaint in 2018 after her employer refused to allow her dog to accompany her at work. Ritt told her employer she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Ritt no longer works at the company.
"This settlement agreement sends the message that employers have important obligations to provide reasonable accommodations to ensure their employees’ dignity,” said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero. “More Minnesotans with disabilities are working. Yet, disability discrimination in employment continues to be one of the largest areas of discrimination we investigate. That’s why we must address discrimination in order to build a more equitable and inclusive Minnesota.”
Here is a summary of the case from the Human Rights Dept:
Ritt and Service Animal
Laura Ritt with her Service Animal, River
Ritt worked in the office at the St. Paul Park refinery as an administrative assistant. She requested to bring her service animal to work so she could perform her job without the symptoms of her service-related disability interfering. The company repeatedly denied her requests, even when a psychiatric nurse practitioner disclosed Ritt's diagnosis and explained that a service animal would help prevent the worsening of her disability-related symptoms at work.
The service animal was professionally trained to provide Ritt physical and mental comfort. It was also trained to easily maneuver physical barriers in the buildings where Ritt worked and remain calm when hearing sirens or alarms, similar to the ones that went off in the refinery.
On September 23, 2019, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found probable cause that the St. Paul Park refinery violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Under the Act, employers have a responsibility to accommodate the known disability of an employee. The Department’s investigation found that the service animal would have enabled Ritt to perform the essential functions of her job without the interference of her disability-related symptoms. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights also determined that the employer failed to prove the service animal would have disrupted the workplace, posed a health or safety risk, or caused a significant burden to the employer.
Terms of the Settlement
To build a more culturally competent workplace and prevent future discrimination from occurring, the settlement requires St. Paul Park refinery to:
reform company policies and procedures so that reasonable accommodations are made to ensure employees with disabilities can perform their job without facing discrimination;
provide anti-discrimination and anti-bias training to address implicit bias, promote equity and inclusion, and prevent future discrimination; and partner with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services to recruit qualified individuals with disabilities to work at the refinery.
The settlement agreement also requires St. Paul Park refinery to pay Ritt $75,000 for payment of lost wages, damages, and attorney fees.
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