Marine Vet With PTSD Sues NJ Fire Department Over Rejection

A Marine combat veteran who came out 3rd on the Paterson Fire Department (NJ) hiring list and was passed over due to his service-related PTSD has filed suit claiming disability discrimination. Brett D’Alessandro filed suit last week in Passaic County Superior Court naming the City of Patterson, Mayor Jose Torres, Fire Chief Michael Postorino, Deputy Chief Kevin Hancock, and the Institute for Forensic Psychology.

The suit contains four state law counts: disability discrimination, retaliation, aiding and abetting, under the New Jersey law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq., and a violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.

From the complaint:

  • Plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. And served in Afghanistan.
  • Plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO was diagnosed as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in connection with his Military Service.
  • Notwithstanding the diagnosis of PTSD, plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO was determined by the military to be fit to continue military service and determined to be able to perform the duties of his Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).
  • Plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO took an examination offered by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission to become a Firefighter for the City of Paterson.
  • As a result of the competitive process, plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO was number three on the List of Eligibles.
  • Despite his high standing on the List of Eligibles, plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO was not offered the position.
  • Rather, plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO was advised by defendant CITY OF PATERSON through Deputy Fire Chief, defendant KEVIN HANCOCK, on behalf of defendant MICHAEL POSTORINO and defendant JOSE “JOEY” TORRES, Mayor of the CITY OF PATERSON PATERSON and its Appointing Authority, to undergo a psychological evaluation by defendant THE INSTITUTE FOR FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY before he would be considered for appointment.
  • Employers are prohibited from asking disability-related questions before making an offer of employment; referral of a candidate for a medical and/or psychological evaluation prior to making the candidate an offer of employment is prohibited by the New Jersey Administrative Code Stereotyping of veterans with PTSD as unable to perform the essential functions of the job as Firefighter is precisely what the NJLAD is designed to prohibit.
  • Plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO has never been provided with an explanation as to how or why a determination was made that he is not capable of performing the essential functions of the job of Firefighter.
  • In light of the medical board findings that plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO’S disability does not preclude him from the performance of military duties, plaintiff BRETT D’ALESSANDRO is able to perform the essential functions of the job of Firefighter.
  • Defendant THE INSTITUTE FOR FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY thus acted in concert with defendants CITY OF PATERSON, CITY OF PATERSON FIRE DEPARTMENT, JOSE “JOEY” TORRES; MICHAEL POSTORINO and KEVIN HANCOCK in aiding and abetting disability discrimination.

Here is a copy of the complaint: DALLESSANDRO v PATERSON

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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