Texas Firefighter Claims ADA Discrimination Due To PTSD

A Texas firefighter has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Georgetown alleging the fire department failed to reasonably accommodate his line-of-duty post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Danny Tucker alleges that he developed PTSD following a motor vehicle accident in 2011 where a teenager was trapped in a burning vehicle on I35. During the rescue, the victim was pinned and screaming for help.

The victim, who was 17 at the time, survived with burns over 30 percent of his body, and 17 broken bones.

Tucker claims his PTSD developed shortly after the incident, causing him to have anxiety, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and an inability to concentrate. The suit claims city officials refused to reasonably accommodate his condition by finding him a suitable position that he could perform. He also accused Georgetown Fire Chief Robert Fite of saying “Bad things happen, get over it.”

Here is a copy of the complaint. Tucker v Georgetown

Two points stuck out in my mind after reading the complaint and the news articles about the suit. First, Tucker’s attorney, John Judge, told reporters that his client observed but did not participate in the rescue. Let me quote the Statesman.com so I get it right: Tucker did not participate in the rescue but watched from the firetruck, Judge said.”

The reason for Tucker remaining at the truck is unclear. The complaint itself is eerily silent about Tucker’s role in the rescue effort. It did say he had been a firefighter since 2000, so he was not a rookie.

Second, the complaint states that in early June Tucker’s doctors and counselors recommended that he stay away from the fire service, and that a separation would be necessary and beneficial to his recovery.  Despite these clear recommendations, complaint then goes on to allege:

On or about June 15, 2011, Plaintiff read an email that was sent out to all of Fire Service Department. The email was congratulating the firefighters that saved the teenager’s life on May 20, 2011. It also mentioned that the firefighters were honored at the City Council meeting on June 14, 2011. Plaintiff was not mentioned at all in any of the honors. This exclusion was personally devastating and set back his recovery. The exclusion was in retaliation for Plaintiff having sought professional assistance, rather than “getting over it” as Chief Fite had ordered.

Putting the two points together, I am confused.  The complaint claims that Tucker needed to stay away from all fire service activities. On that point the complaint is crystal clear, and rightfully so: it is what justifies his demand to be given other employment by the city as a “reasonable accommodation”. Yet the complaint also implies that the department wrongfully excluded him from the awards ceremonies, and in doing so further damaged his recovery. Can both allegations be true? Can one be medically required to stay away from the fire service and yet still participate in an awards ceremony… an event where the incident will inevitably be recounted in excruciating detail?

Perhaps the point that the complaint should have argued is that even though he could not attend, Tucker still should have been honored for his role in the rescue. However, that raises another thorny question: did Tucker do anything at the emergency scene that was award worthy? Hard questions for sure, but questions that are going to have to be answered before a federal court judge before very long.

More on the story.

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.

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