Man born without arms sues Kroger for wrongful termination
PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) - A disabled man says he was wrongfully terminated because he could not walk his bicycle or carry it up and down a flight of stairs at a Southeast Portland business park.
Michael Trimble, 31, is suing the Kroger supermarket chain and Elwood Staffing Services, a temporary hiring agency that placed him at Kroger’s corporate offices in Southeast Portland. He says their discrimination and retaliation violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and resulted in his wrongful firing.
Trimble was born in Russia, around the time of the Chernobyl, Ukraine nuclear disaster in 1987. The power plant explosion sent plumes of radioactive smoke over Eastern Europe, killing 31 people and causing a spike in birth defects.
Trimble's disability is obvious and severe - he’s missing both arms.
"I just use my feet like you use your arms," he said. "To me it's ordinary but to you all it's extraordinary."
Trimble went through Elwood's office skills testing. He used his feet to perform all of the tests that others would use their hands and arms to accomplish. He passed them all.
On Jan. 25, 2016, Elwood offered him a position in Kroger's human resources department, answering phone calls and typing reports.
He accepted the position.
Trimble commuted to work using a custom-made, upright bicycle. Without arms, Trimble steers with his shoulder's stump, using a specialized U-shaped bar. He brakes with his knee.
"I biked 2,600 miles last year," he said.
For more than a month, Kroger allowed Trimble to walk his bike through the building's front door. That suddenly changed when Kroger moved Trimble to its customer relations center.
Trimble says the company's loss prevention/security officer told him he had to walk his bike through the pavilion and enter the building through its rear entrance. To access the bike storage room from there, Trimble says he had to pass the smokers' area, then carry his bike up and down a flight of stairs.
In court documents, his attorney stated that is impossible.
"Their first concern was what if I run into somebody," Trimble said. "Their second concern was, well, we don't want you dirtying the rugs up with the bike."
In March 2016, a representative from Elwood Staffing Services told him his contract had been terminated because he "continued to ride his bike through the pavilion after being asked not to do so." Trimble says he could not walk or push his bicycle for long distances because he does not have arms.
Trimble says his immediate supervisor was stunned by the decision because he received glowing reviews.
"I wasn't being fired for performance," Trimble said. "She said Kroger was very impressed, but it was over this whole damn biking thing and they didn't want me biking across the pavilion."
According to court documents, an Elwood representative told Trimble, "if you can't follow a simple direction such as not biking through the pavilion, how can Kroger expect you to follow more specific direction on taking calls in the future."
Kroger told KATU in a prepared statement:
"The Kroger family of stores has a long history of hiring and accommodating people with disabilities. While we can't comment on pending litigation, our company values include safety, inclusion and respect and we strive to live up to those values every day."
Court documents don't say how much Trimble is suing for, but he did tell KATU he would accept a full-time job if they could agree on accommodations.