Philadelphia Fire Prevails in Disability Discrimination Suit by Cadet

The City of Philadelphia has prevailed in a lawsuit brought by a paramedic cadet alleging he had been discriminated against on account of his physical disabilities.

Chase Frost claims he was prevented from entering a fire academy program to become a Fire Services Paramedic for the Philadelphia Fire Department in October, 2015, and then wrongfully terminated from a second fire academy program in September, 2016. He also alleges he was retaliated against because he filed a complaint with the EEOC over the 2015 academy, and subjected to a hostile work environment at the Fire Academy in 2016.

As explained in the decision:

  • In August 2007, Plaintiff became disabled while performing a fire rescue as a volunteer firefighter with the Delaware County Parkside Fire Company.
  • As a result of that incident, Plaintiff’s left arm and right leg were amputated and fitted with prosthetics, and his body was severely burned, leaving visible cars over 60% of Plaintiff’s body including his head, neck, right arm and left leg.
  • Plaintiff is a licensed and certified paramedic in both the State of Pennsylvania and with the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, with over five years of experience and over 1,100 hours of field internship experience.

Frost was admitted to the fire academy on September 12, 2016, but almost immediately ran into problems. He was unable to report on September 13, 2016 due to swelling in his lower right extremity. He returned to class on September 14, 2016, but was terminated from the academy on September 22, 2016  after failing a written quiz for the second time.

Frost filed suit in federal court alleging discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (Count I), the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (Count II), and the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance (Count III). He claims he was subjected to more rigorous physical testing than his counterparts, that one instructor made a remark to his class about how disgusting burn victims were, that another instructor “gawked” at his prosthetic limb, and that a city doctor told him to “really think hard” about whether he should proceed with becoming a Fire Services Paramedic.

In ruling on behalf of the city, US District Court Judge Michael M. Baylson explained the law as follows:

  • Plaintiff’s discrimination claims under these three statutes are subject to the three-part burden-shifting framework set out in McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973) and can be analyzed together.
  • A plaintiff faces the initial burden of establishing a prima facie case of unlawful discrimination.
  • If a prima facie case is successfully established, the defendant then must articulate some legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the Plaintiff’s adverse treatment.
  • Finally, if the defendant successfully puts forth such reasons, the plaintiff must demonstrate that those reasons are merely pretext for unlawful employment discrimination.
  • To make out a prima facie case under the ADA, an employee must establish that he “(1) has a ‘disability,’ (2) is a ‘qualified individual,’ and (3) has suffered an adverse employment action because of that disability.”

Judge Baylson went on to conclude that the facts which Frost alleged were insufficient to establish that he had been discriminated against, that the city failed to accommodate his disability, or that he had been subjected to a hostile work environment.

Here is a copy of the ruling:

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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