Service animal dispute is settled with refinery

Service animal dispute is settled with refinery

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has announced a settlement agreement with Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s St. Paul Park refinery. The settlement was reached after the company violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by discriminating against Laura Ritt. Ritt is a veteran with a service-related disability. Marathon officials refused to allow her service animal to accompany her at work. 

“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.” 

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. It was 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. 

To build a more culturally competent workplace and prevent future discrimination from occurring, the settlement requires the 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.