Louisiana Captain Claims Promotion would be a Reasonable Accommodation

A Louisiana fire captain who was terminated in 2018 has filed suit claiming the fire department failed to accommodate his cardiac related disability by, among other things, not promoting him to District Chief or Chief of Administration.

Darrin J. Guzzardo was a captain with the St. Tammany Parish Fire Protection District No. 12. He went off-injured with a back injury on April 16, 2017. When he returned in June, 2017 he was found not fit for duty. In April, 2018 he was diagnosed with “a Partial Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Connection into the Superior Vena Cava” and terminated June 30, 2018.

As explained in the complaint:

  • This condition is congenital in nature and ultimately increases the risk of heart failure during periods of intense physical exertion, although Mr. Guzzardo had never actually suffered heart failure.
  • Mr. Guzzardo’s condition remains asymptomatic so long as Mr. Guzzardo does not engage in intense, exerting activity.
  • In approximately January 2018, District 12 informed Mr. Guzzardo that he was scheduled for termination on June 30, 2018 unless he could obtain medical clearance to perform firefighting duties as a captain.
  • District 12 selected June 30, 2018 as Mr. Guzzardo’s termination date because as of that date he would have exhausted his available and accrued sick leave under both FMLA and civil service rules.
  • While Mr. Guzzardo was medically restricted from discharging the duties of captain, he was not restricted from working at District 12 in any other position that did not require fighting fires.
  • For instance, Mr. Guzzardo was not restricted from performing the duties of a mechanic’s helper, Fire Prevention Officer, District Chief, or Chief of Administration, because none of those positions required the incumbent to engage in the work of actually fighting fires.
  • To the extent Mr. Guzzardo could gain temporary or permanent reassignment to one of these or any other light duty position at District 12, he would not have been terminated.
  • Accordingly, beginning in February or March 2018, Mr. Guzzardo repeatedly requested transfer or earned civil service promotion to any of several open positions at District 12, each of which Mr. Guzzardo was cleared to perform because the positions did not require firefighting.
  • Prior to his termination on June 30, 2018, Mr. Guzzardo requested that Chief Haley transfer him to an open or otherwise needed position of Fire Prevention Officer or mechanic’s helper.
  • Chief Haley denied the requests.
  • Prior to his termination, Mr. Guzzardo also requested that Chief Haley promote Mr. Guzzardo to the position of District Chief when a vacancy for that position was scheduled to become available by the end of July 2018.
  • Mr. Guzzardo possessed the necessary testing qualification to receive the promotion.
  • Mr. Guzzardo was the senior-most captain at District 12 with the required testing qualification.
  • Under civil rules in effect at the time, when the District Chief position became available, Mr. Guzzardo was guaranteed to win the promotion.
  • Mr. Guzzardo requested permission to take use his vacation time to remain employed until the District Chief position officially opened so that Mr. Guzzardo could promote into the position.
  • Chief Haley denied all of these requests and insisted on terminating Mr. Guzzardo on June 30.
  • Chief Haley refused to engage in any interactive process with Mr. Guzzardo to determine what, if any, reasonable accommodations could be made in the position of captain or any other position that would have allowed Mr. Guzzardo to remain employed at District 12 in the position of captain or any other position.

The complaint also alleged:

  • Upon information and belief, at all relevant times during this lawsuit, the duties of the District Chief position were solely administrative and supervisory in nature.
  • Specifically, each District Chief supervised all subordinate captains and firefighters during one of three daily shifts.
  • Upon information and belief, at all relevant times during this lawsuit, none of the duties of a District Chief at District 12 required the incumbent to actually fight fires, and the position constituted either officially or in practical terms “light duty.”
  • Upon information and belief, at all relevant times during this lawsuit, the duties of the Chief of Administration position were solely administrative and supervisory in nature.

The 21-page complaint contains a single count of discrimination under the American with Disabilities Act. It was filed yesterday in US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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