SC Lieutenant Challenges Termination For Running Road Race While On Light Duty for Knee Injury

A South Carolina fire lieutenant who was terminated after he ran in a 5k race while on light duty for a work-related knee injury last year, has filed suit alleging disability discrimination and retaliation. Russell Brent Norman filed suit last week against Horry County Fire Rescue. The suit was filed in Horry County Court of Common Pleas.

Lt. Norman claims his termination was retaliation for the workers compensation claim he filed. He also claims the termination was on account of his disability, and/or in retaliation for him having requested an accommodation

The factual allegations in the complaint are quite specific and are provided here verbatim:

  • Plaintiff suffered a workplace injury at a fire call on April 6, 2018.
  • Plaintiff submitted Worker’s Compensation paperwork to his employer the very next day.
  • Plaintiff was placed on light duty restrictions on April 10, 2018.
  • Plaintiff was released to light duty work with medical restrictions on April 13, 2018. Those restrictions said, “no running.”
  • Plaintiff received new restriction on April 23, 2018 and was diagnosed with a torn ACL and lateral and medial meniscus tears.
  • Plaintiff asked his doctor at that appointment if he could start running again, and as a result, Plaintiff was told he could engage in any physical activity that he could handle.
  • Plaintiff’s work restrictions on April 23, 2018 cleared Plaintiff to work light duty without the “no running” restriction.
  • Defendant denied Plaintiff’s Workers’ Compensation claim on April 27, 2018 arguing that Plaintiff’s injuries were due to the internal mechanical breakdown of component muscle and tissues from a prior surgery.
  • Plaintiff, based on his doctor’s approval, began working out again after his April 23, 2018 appointment.
  • He decided at this time, that he felt physically able to compete in a county-sponsored charity 5k marathon on April 29, 2018.
  • Plaintiff’s participation in the 5k was on his own personal time, and it did not violate his work restrictions since his most recent work restrictions removed the “no running” directive.
  • Plaintiff jogged in the 5k and did not engage in anymore physical activity than he could handle.
  • Plaintiff filed a formal contested Worker’s Compensation claim for his April 6, 2018 workplace injury on May 2, 2018.
  • Plaintiff was next out of work from May 4, 2018 until May 7, 2018 for a hernia repair surgery.
  • Plaintiff was terminated via Assistant Chief James Walker on May 8, 2018 when he returned to work on the stated basis that he had exceeded his work restrictions when he ran in the 5k.
  • That basis for termination is false as pointed out above.
  • Instead, as alleged, alternatively where necessary, Plaintiff was terminated because of his Workers’ Compensation Claim, his disabilities, and his request for time off to treat his disabilities.

The complaint contains three counts: workers compensation retaliation, disability discrimination Americans With Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA), and retaliation under the ADAAA.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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