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Fire Prevention Chief Sues Under ADA Alleging Disability Discrimination

The chief of fire prevention in White River Township, Indiana, has filed suit alleging that the fire department discriminated against him under the Americans with Disabilities Act by suspending him and not allowing him to return to work after he suffered from seizures.

Eric Brown began having seizures in 2008 and was diagnosed with a temporal lobe seizure disorder. He was cleared to return to work by his doctor and the fire department doctor. After returning to work, the fire department suspended Brown without pay for four disciplinary actions allegedly related to the seizures.

In February 2009, Brown was placed on administrative leave, and underwent treatment for his seizures at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The lawsuit claims that the Doctors in Mayo Clinic cleared Brown to return to work in May and June 2009 with restrictions, but the department did not allow him to return to work, suggesting that Brown retire and go on disability.

Brown’s attorney then asked the department to allow Brown to return with a reasonable accommodation, but the request was rejected. In October 2009, Brown’s doctor certified that he could return to work without restrictions, but the fire department placed certain restrictions on him.

Brown’s attorney alleges that as a fire investigator, a seizure disorder would not put other firefighters at risk, and that Brown just wants to be able to do his job.  White River Fire department disputes the allegations in the lawsuit, which is now pending in US District Court.

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About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.