Ohio FF Loses Monocular Vision ADA Case

An Ohio firefighter/paramedic who lost an eye in an off-duty fireworks accident, today lost a federal court lawsuit to get his job back.

Anthony Rorrer was injured in a bottle rocket incident of the 4th of July, 2008. Afterwards, he sought to return to work at the Stow Fire Department, but the department refused claiming Rorrer could not perform one of the essential functions of his position, namely driving emergency vehicles.

Rorrer filed suit in 2011 claiming the department violated the American’s with Disabilities Act by failing to provide him with a reasonable accommodation, namely: allowing other firefighters to drive. He also alleged a violation of the Ohio Civil Rights Act and unlawful retaliation.

The key issues in the case came down to whether driving was an essential function of being a firefighter in Stow, and whether granting Rorrer permission to not drive would be a reasonable accommodation. The court ruled in the city’s favor on both questions finding that the ability to drive is an essential function, and allowing a firefighter the right not to drive would constitute an undue burden on Stow and Rorrer’s co-workers.

In the court’s own words:

While Rorrer opines, without evidentiary support, that it is highly unlikely that the need for him to drive would arise, the Court concludes otherwise. The very nature of Rorrer’s occupation mandates that he be able to immediately respond to emergency situations. In fact, lives depend on the ability of him and his crew to respond quickly to life threatening situations. Those situations involve risk not only to members of the general public, but also direct risks to those Rorrer works with on a daily basis. To the Court, it is clear that Rorrer’s admitted inability to drive in an emergency situation would place an undue burden on Stow and ultimately enhance the risk of harm to Rorrer’s co-workers. Further, the function at issue is clearly a business necessity. With three-man crews working, Stow must be ensured that all three firefighters can drive under emergency circumstances.

The good news is that Rorrer continues to serve as a firefighter in another department in Ohio.

Here is a copy of the decision. Rorrer v Stow Decision

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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