Lawsuit: Disabled man denied wheelchair, forced to crawl out of store

DES MOINES — A disabled Iowa man has filed a lawsuit against Mills Fleet Farm and the manager on duty at its Mason City store, alleging he was forced to leave "without the benefit of a wheelchair" and crawled on his knees when returning to his vehicle.

Shane Zahn, 53, of Garner, shared a video on his personal Facebook page in April in which he's seen crawling out of the store. The video has gone viral with more than 13.8 million views. Additionally, his Facebook post has more than 153,600 shares.

Zahn and his lawyer, Peter Riley of Cedar Rapids-based Tom Riley Law Firm, sued after filing a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission in May. Riley told the Des Moines Register on Thursday that the commission "didn't get to the point of making any findings."

Riley said that what happened to his client "was an embarrassment" and that "he's happy to move forward."

"From Shane's standpoint, this isn't just about the money," Riley said. "He'd also like to see that this sort of thing doesn't happen (in the future)."

After viral video, disabled man files complaint against retailer

A Mills Fleet Farm official said the company hasn't seen the lawsuit and declined to comment about it.

Zahn told the Register in April he had a below-the-knee amputation on his right leg five years ago and had a blood clot in his left leg that required surgery in December 2016. He said he's previously shopped at the Mason City Mills Fleet Farm and usually brings a manual wheelchair with him — unless he has access to an electric model.

In the suit, filed Tuesday in District Court for Cerro Gordo County, Zahn says he shopped at Mills Fleet Farm on April 24 with his son and obtained a wheelchair from the store. After making his purchases, Zahn was approached by an employee who said he couldn't leave with the wheelchair and must find a different way to exit.

The suit claims after the employee talked to one or more managers, who "authorized and approved her conduct," Zahn returned his items and "was forced to leave the Mills Fleet Farm store without the benefit of a wheelchair by walking on his knees/or crawling to return to his car."

Then-CEO Wayne Sales acknowledged the "unfortunate incident" on "behalf of the entire Mills Fleet Farm Team" in a statement issued the next day on the company's official Facebook page. 

Sales left Mills Fleet Farm in June and was succeeded by Derick Prelle.

Zahn received a right to sue letter Aug. 9, allowing a lawsuit to be filed within 90 days of issuance. Tuesday marked Day 90.

Riley said he's had no correspondence with Mills Fleet Farm since the April incident.

"I would expect the dialogue process to start now," Riley said.

According to its website, Mills Fleet Farm has 37 stores across Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Besides Mason City, there's also an Ankeny location. 

Mills Fleet Farm is based in Appleton, Wisconsin, and sells a wide variety of merchandise, including work and outdoor clothing, tools, auto parts, and hunting and fishing gear.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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