Arkansas Firefighter Alleges His Termination Was Due to Autism

A Little Rock firefighter who was terminated last December after just nine months on the job, has filed suit claiming disability discrimination associated with his autism.

Austin Williams filed suit in US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas against the city of Little Rock claiming a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Williams started with the Little Rock Fire Department on March 4, 2019.

The suit claims that upon completion of the fire academy, Williams had problems with an unnamed captain. He sought an accommodation for his autism by being transferred away from the captain but instead was fired.

Quoting from the complaint (including some awkward wording and grammar problems):

  • The Plaintiff successfully completed the Little Rock Fire Department Training academy, which was six months long.
  • The Defendant required the passing of test during the Training Academy, all of which the Plaintiff successfully passed.
  • The Plaintiff successfully completed the State of Arkansas Test for Firefighter I and II.
  • The Plaintiff passed the National Emergency Medical Technician Test, passing on his first attempt.
  • As an example of the City being unwilling to accommodate the Plaintiff because of his Autism, the Plaintiff explained to his Captain that if he learned a term for something he learned that term as initial told to him.
  • For example, he was criticized for calling a, ‘4×4 bandages’ that he learned to be an, ‘absorbent bandage.’
  • The Plaintiff was criticized for not responding when he was asked for a, ‘4×4 bandage,’ even though he had explained to his Captain that he had learned the term, ‘absorbent bandage,’ and that because of his disability relearning was difficult.
  • The Plaintiff’s Captain claimed that he could not perform the job, which was a false statement made because of the Captain’s view toward the disability of Autism.
  • The Complaints made by his Captain where reviewed with the Plaintiff by his acting Captain and jobs were successfully completed.
  • While assigned to Station 9 derogatory comments were made by coworkers, including supervisors such as, “Shrek,” “Private Pyle,” which is a dimwitted soldier that goes on a killing spree in a movie entitled, “Full Metal Jacket.”
  • The American with Disabilities paperwork that the Plaintiff submitted to the Little Rock Human Resource Department was passed around his fire station to non-supervisors.
  • At the station in the presence of the supervisor who recommended his termination Firefighters would say that they wouldn’t take the Plaintiff hunting with them because he could not be trusted with a gun.
  • The Captain would make comments to the Plaintiff such as, “I hate you,” and, “I can’t wait to be on vacation.”
  • Plaintiff was terminated on December 18, 2019.
  • The Plaintiff was terminated from the City of Little Rock because he was disabled within the meaning of the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 because he was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. Which the City of Little Rock was aware of at the time of his termination.
  • The City of Little Rock did not have an interactive process with him concerning his disability and in fact told him his request for a transfer to a difference Captain was not going to be considered because it would not occur.

Williams is seeking reinstatement, backpay and attorneys’ fees. 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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