Georgia Firefighter Sues Over PTSD Related Termination

A Georgia firefighter who was prevented from returning to duty after taking stress-related medical leave is suing his department claiming disability discrimination.  Timothy Smallwood filed suit in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on April 10, 2018 against Forsyth County alleging a violation of Americans With Disabilities Act.

According to the complaint, Smallwood was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2012. In March 2017 his doctor recommended he take medical leave to provide more in-depth treatment. His request for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act was approved and began on March 24, 2017.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • As Plaintiff’s FMLA leave expiration was approaching, Plaintiff was informed he would need to request additional leave under the County Medical Leave policy in order to obtain more time to get clearance from his doctor to return to work.
  • Plaintiff applied for County Medical Leave on June 4, 2017.
  • Although Plaintiff’s County Medical Leave was granted, he was terminated on June 15, 2017.
  • Plaintiff believed the County Medical Leave was only being provided to obtain the necessary clearance from his doctor, County administration, and County Human Resources.
  • While on County Medical Leave, Plaintiff was forced to return his equipment as part of his termination, which he did on [the] first day of his County Medical Leave, June 16, 2017, despite his intention to return to work.
  • While turning in his equipment on June 16, 2017, Operations Chief Barry Head advised Plaintiff that his equipment would be there waiting on him and that it was not a matter of “if” he returned but “when” he returned.
  • Only twelve (12) days later on June 28, 2017, Plaintiff’s doctor submitted the clearance for Plaintiff to return to work on July 8, 2017.
  • Plaintiff completed and submitted the necessary “Request to Return from Medical Leave of Absence” on July 3, 2017.
  • On July 17, 2017, the County denied Plaintiff’s “Request to Return from Medical Leave of Absence,” stating within the denial that “Fire Apparatus Operator is one of the most safety sensitive positions within the Fire Department.”
  • That same day, July 19, 2017, County HR representative Pat Carson verbally told Plaintiff by phone that his request to return to work was denied because of his PTSD and because the County deemed him to be a safety risk.

Smallwood is alleging a violation of both the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  He is seeking reinstatement with backpay and damages.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Smallwood v Forsyth County

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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