Utah Captain Sues For Gender and Disability Discrimination

A Utah fire captain who was terminated after she was unable to take a physical abilities test for medical reasons, has filed suit in federal court alleging both gender and disability discrimination.

Captain Dawnya Halliday claims that a physical abilities test adopted by the Saratoga Springs Fire Department in 2012 unlawfully discriminates against women. She also claims that she has a medical condition, Graves Disease, that the department refused to accommodate.

Captain Halliday, who served as interim fire chief in Saratoga Springs prior to the hiring of Fire Chief Jess Campbell in 2011, requested an accommodation of 60 days to prepare for the test. She was instead terminated.

The complaint includes five counts:

  1. Violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  2. Negligence under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  3. Hostile Work Environment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  4. Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983
  5. Violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Among the allegations:

  • Upon his hiring by the City, Chief Campbell began a campaign to intimidate the female members of the department in order to get them to resign.
  • Plaintiff and other female fire fighters were subjected to ongoing discrimination which includes, but is not limited to the following: a nonstandard physical agility test implemented by a new Chief in 2012 and adjusted so as to favor certain groups of people, but to disfavor female firefighters.
  • The test was adapted by Chief Campbell from a different test used for applicants seeking to become fire fighters but never used as a test for fire fighters who have already been employed and trained.
  • Upon information and belief, Chief Campbell has no training in developing standardized tests for fire fighters.
  • The test sought to evaluate aspects of performance which are irrelevant to the Plaintiff’s situation.
  • For example, the test tested a fire fighter’s ability to climb 180 steps even though there is no building in Saratoga Springs or anywhere else Plaintiff would be required to perform firefighting services which has 180 steps.
  • As a further example, the test tested a fire fighter’s ability to perform with 70 pounds of equipment even though Plaintiff’s equipment did not weigh 70 pounds.
  • Preferential exceptions were given to male employees regarding time to prepare for this test, tools used during the test and methods of administering and grading the test.
  • Failing to meet testing standards resulted in disciplinary action including suspension and or termination.
  • Male employees were allowed exceptions during the test and not subjected to disciplinary action when testing standards were not met.
  • Plaintiff was intimidated and told by Chief Campbell that she, “…should thank [him] for allowing [her] to go home and be a wife and mother,” notwithstanding the fact that the Plaintiff was, at the time, a single mother.
  • Chief Campbell referred to female fire fighters in a demeaning fashion …
  • Plaintiff suffers from Graves’ Disease.
  • As a result of that disease she was unable to take a physical agility test at the time Chief Campbell felt she should take it.
  • Plaintiff sought an accommodation of being allowed to train for the test and take it at a time her doctor set.
  • After considering her condition, her doctor told the City that she should be able to take the test within 60 days.
  • The City refused the accommodation of allowing her the additional 60 days and terminated her. This termination was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Utah Anti-Discrimination Act.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Halliday v Saratoga Springs

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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