South Carolina Firefighter Sues Over Dyslexia-Related Discrimination

A South Carolina volunteer firefighter who claims he was passed over as a full-timer because of his dyslexia has filed suit alleging disability discrimination. Christopher Gallagher filed suit last month accusing the Surfside Beach Fire Department of violating the American With Disability Act Amendment Act (ADAAA).

Gallagher applied for an open engineer’s position in 2017. He requested an accommodation on the written exam for his dyslexia, but none was provided. Despite passing both the written and physical abilities portions of the selection process, Gallagher was ranked third on the hiring list behind a firefighter who flunked both tests. The person hired did not have the prerequisites for the position and had to be sent away for training that Gallagher already possessed.

According to the complaint:

  • Plaintiff has dyslexia, a qualified condition under the ADAAA. He notified his supervisor of his condition, and was not given any accommodation for the written examination.
  • However, during the examination, a coworker yelled toward Plaintiff, “That guy is an idiot! What’s he got? Dyslexia?” Plaintiff had not informed anyone beyond his supervisors of his condition.
  • Plaintiff and one (1) other candidate passed the physical examination – Coner Clendennin. However, Clendennin was less qualified than Plaintiff for the position in that Clendennin did not have the prerequisite education and continuing education required for the Engineer position, which Plaintiff did in fact have.
  • Despite being more qualified than Clendennin, Plaintiff was placed third on Defendant’s eligibility list – behind a candidate who failed the written and physical examination.
  • Therafter, Defendant hired Clendennin and was required to find another person to cover his position while Defendant paid for him to receive the prerequisite training and education.
  • During this time, though, Plaintiff heard from a supervisor that Prentice Williams – a captain for the fire department – and Chief Kevin Otte had a conversation where Williams declared, “We’re not hiring someone who can’t read.”

The suit was filed in Horry County Court of Common Pleas.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Gallagher v Surfside Beach

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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