Minneapolis Settles Sneaker Discrimination Suit for $785k

The city of Minneapolis has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by a former firefighter over the city’s refusal to allow him to wear sneakers on duty for medical reasons. FF Keith Daniel injured his ankle while on duty back in 2011. The injury required surgery to repair a torn ligament.

In 2014, Daniel reinjured the same ankle. When he was able to return to work, his doctor prescribed sneakers to be worn at work to “provide greater support and comfort for his ankle.” The department refused to allow the sneakers and he suffered a third injury in 2015. Thereafter he was briefly permitted to wear sneakers, but that permission was rescinded. He ended up retiring due to his injuries and received a workers’ comp settlement.

Daniel filed suit under the Minnesota Human Rights Act alleging disability discrimination. The essence his claim was that the city’s refusal to allow him to wear sneakers was a refusal to accommodate his disability in violation of the Minnesota act. The city argued the suit should have been barred by workers comp exclusivity. That issue ended up before the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2019, with the court ruling in Daniel’s favor. Here is a copy of that decision.

The case was remanded back to trial court. Last fall a Hennepin County jury found the city liable for discrimination. The case concluded last week with the city agreeing to pay Daniel and his attorneys $785,000. Daniel was quoted by the Star Tribune as saying:

  • “For me, it was hard to believe that we went all through this for a pair of … tennis shoes.”
  • “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.”

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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