Secretary Required to Wear Heels. Trips. Sues.

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Discrimination lawsuits are being filed more often by employees and receiving lots of media attention.

Take the lawsuit filed by Denise Fitzhenry, former secretary at the Detroit, Mich., law firm of Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn. The policy of that workplace was for secretaries to wear high heels.

Fitzhenry tripped after a heel got caught in the carpet of the office, and she suffered a back injury. That required surgery and under the Family and Medical Leave Act she took a leave of absence. Upon return to work, she requested "reasonable accommodation of her disability." She was denied this by her employer. Then she had to undergo another medical procedure. For that she took another leave of absence. When she returned to work she was assigned a job that increased her injury. As a result she took another leave. When she was ready to return, the law firm informed her it had no open positions; therefore, she would be terminated.

What might assist the plaintiff, at least in the media, is that the atmosphere at the law firm resembles the sexist workplace of 'Mad Men,' claims her lawyer, Deborah Gordon. Fitzhenry's boss, the head of the firm, was allegedly overbearing and demanding. Will the negative publicity -- that is, damage to the brand -- encourage the defendant to settle?

What will assist the plaintiff in court is that she received a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That means a federal claim is part of her lawsuit.

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