Bridgeport Fire Sued For Disability Discrimination Over Hypertension

A candidate who was denied admission to the Bridgeport Fire Department training academy due to high blood pressure, is suing the city in federal court for disability discrimination.

Antonio Dias filed suit last week in US District Court claiming that he can perform the essential functions of being a firefighter and that his conditional offer of employment with withdrawn on account of a perceived disability.

According to the complaint, last July Dias was offered a spot in an academy that was scheduled to begin in August. He satisfied all the various requirements, but prior to a mandatory stress test his blood pressure was deemed too high. The stress test requirement was implemented after two Bridgeport firefighters died in 2011, and “the BFD would not make an exception to their requirement that their physicians confirm that the candidate passed the stress test.”

Dias appealed the decision to the Bridgeport Civil Service Commission and in the interim was cleared by his own physician as well as the city’s doctor. However, civil service commission refused to return Dias to the list of eligible candidates.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • At all relevant times, Dias was able to perform the essential functions of the position of an Entry Level Firefighter, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
  • Both the Plaintiff’s physician, Dr. Pun, and the Defendant’s physician, Dr. Wagner, concluded that Dias could perform the essential functions of the firefighter position without any restrictions.
  • Under both Section 504 and the ADA, an employer can only withdraw an offer of employment due to a medical condition if, as a result of the effects of the medical condition, the individual poses a “direct threat,” which is defined as a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of themselves or others which cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation.”
  • Determining whether the individual poses a “direct threat” depends on an “individualized assessment of the individual’s present ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job.”
  • As long as he takes the prescribed blood pressure medication, Dias does not pose a significant risk of substantial harm to himself or others.
  • The Defendant did not conduct an individualized assessment to determine whether Dias posed a significant risk to himself or others.
  • The Defendant perceived Dias as being disabled as a result of his initial inability to pass a stress test. Therefore, the Plaintiff was “regarded as” disabled by the Defendant.
  • Dias’ perceived disability was a substantial factor which led the Defendant to disqualify him from the hiring process and to deny his request to be returned to the list of eligible entry level firefighters.
  • As a result, the Defendant’s actions violated Section 504.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Dias v Bridgeport

 

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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