A renowned Bend Paralympic athlete is suing her former employer, Home Depot, for $1.5 million, claiming the company did not consider her disability when it fired her in 2017.
In a 16-page complaint filed Tuesday in Deschutes County Circuit Court, Barbara Buchan claims that after hurting herself in a fall at work, management at the Bend location singled out a disciplinary infraction — keeping $11 worth of presentation materials in her vehicle overnight — and fired her for it.
“After more than 11 years of employment and positive yearly performance reviews, the Home Depot fired the 61-year-old Ms. Buchan for ‘stealing’ … and escorted her from the premises,” the lawsuit states.
The Atlanta-based corporation has yet to be served with the complaint, which was filed by Buchan’s attorneys at Kuhlman Law of Bend. A spokesperson for Home Depot declined to comment for this article.
Buchan suffers from a traumatic brain injury sustained in 1982 when she was competing for a spot on the U.S. Cycling Team. While on a long descent, she was in a collision involving 21 of the race field’s 80 riders.
After being airlifted to a hospital, she was in a coma for two months and underwent five brain surgeries. A quarter of the left side of her brain was removed and a metal plate was installed in her rebuilt skull, according to her lawsuit.
Buchan was diagnosed with aphasia and quadriparesis, a seizure disorder.
“Ms. Buchan’s condition causes her to struggle with speech and processing of information and, as such, limits one or more major life activities including, word retrieval, speaking, communication, interacting with others, short-term memory and ambulation,” the lawsuit states.
Buchan would go on to achieve acclaim and success as a Paralympic athlete. She competed in five Paralympic Games and was regularly sponsored by Home Depot. She capped her competitive career by winning two gold medals at the Games in 2008 in China.
Buchan started working as a salesperson at the Bend Home Depot in May 2006 and spent her entire tenure there in the garden department.
On July 5, 2017, she tripped over a box she dropped and fell onto the concrete floor, injuring her knees, hands, face and head. She was driven home by a co-worker after filling out injury paperwork. She’d later learn she suffered a concussion.
Buchan’s 2017 injury resulted in seizures and hospitalization, according to her suit. She met with the store manager, Robert Midgely, and told him she “really needed” to get examined by a doctor and would likely need some time off to recuperate.
According to Buchan, Midgely became upset and said, “Now I’m going to get a $1,000 fine.”
For years she presented projects for the store’s series of female-centered home improvement clinics called “Do it Herself” projects.
Several days after Buchan’s conversation with her boss, she placed a “shelf/crate project” she’d designed for a “Do it Herself” class in a work cart, along with several other personal items. That night, at the end of her shift she walked the cart to her car and noticed the shelf/crate project was still at the bottom of the cart, according to the lawsuit.
“She knew the store was in the process of closing and as such, she would bring it back on her following shift which was two days later,” the lawsuit states. “Due to her disability and recent injury, Ms. Buchan, however, forgot about the shelf/crate project.”
Four days later she was brought into a meeting with managers and was fired after being questioned for 2 1⁄2 hours.
The total cost of the materials she was accused of stealing was $11, according to the suit.
Buchan claims Midgley was motivated by Buchan’s recent worker’s compensation report and request for medical care and failed to accommodate her disability.
In November 2017, she cross-filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Twelve months later, BOLI issued a 90-day Notice of Right to File a Civil Suit.
She’s seeking $56,000 for lost income as a result of her termination and $1.4 million for noneconomic loss for suffering “mental stress, humiliation, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org