California Firefighter Gets $425k Settlement For Disability Discrimination

The city of Merced, California has agreed to pay a firefighter candidate $425,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit.

Ryan Staiger was offered a job as a Merced firefighter in 2007, but was considered to be medically unfit due to a limited range of motion in his right arm. Staiger suffered an arm fracture as a teenager.

The city’s doctor and a private specialist said the limited mobility prevented Staiger from being able to perform the essential functions of being a firefighter. Staiger claimed that he was able to compensate for the limited range of motion by rotating his shoulder, and filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing Commission.

The commission agreed with Staiger and a suit was filed against the city in Merced County Superior Court.  Following a judge’s ruling that the city violated Staiger’s rights, the settlement was reached.

Staiger now works for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CALF FIRE.

More on the case.

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.
  • Larry Jenkins

    If he proved he could do the job then he should have won. Our department has one firefighter with one arm missing below the elbow. He does everything required and is an asset to the department.

    • Good point Larry

      Many folks misinterpret NFPA 1582 as a strict requirement – and in reality it is intended to be guidance to the FD and the doctors. The ultimate determination needs to be made on whether or not the applicant can safely do the job (with or without a reasonable accommodation).


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