Ex employees sue U for disability bias

by Michelle Kibiger

Hennepin County Judge David W. Duffy was assigned Monday to a case in which two former employees are suing the University, alleging that the school fired them because of their disabilities.
Susan Forsyth and Thomas Ulrich filed their suit Aug. 1 and are requesting financial damages in excess of $150,000 for lost wages, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for legal fees and emotional distress.
Forsyth was terminated from her position as the school’s manager of special employment programs March 16, 1993. She suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an illness that causes shortness of breath and a chronic cough.
Ulrich is an amputee who suffers from a disorder that confines him to a wheelchair. He was a rehabilitation specialist at the University and was terminated the same day. Forsyth and Ulrich applied for re-employment April 30, 1996, but were denied.
Both plaintiffs’ job descriptions allowed them to advocate on behalf of disabled people, recruit them and promote their hiring and relocation. They also recommended accommodations for disabled persons, educated supervisors about disabilities and workers’ compensations and advised University departments about the general treatment of disabled persons.
The University was aware of both plaintiffs’ disabilities, according to the civil complaint.
In addition to loss of wages, the plaintiffs allege that the University harassed them because they opposed what they thought to be an unlawful firing of people with disabilities. Forsyth and Ulrich say the school disciplined and threatened them for speaking out against the institution.
Neither of the attorneys were available for comment. The University is expected to file a response to the complaint by the end of the week.