Texas Firefighter Alleges Disability and Age Discrimination

A Texas firefighter who was terminated in 2019, has filed suit claiming he was the victim of age discrimination, disability discrimination, and retaliation. Jason January filed suit earlier this year in US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, naming the City of Huntsville as the sole defendant.

January alleges he suffers from several ailments, including low blood sugar and complications from gall bladder surgery. He claims that his superiors accused him of being “a pill popper and harassed him about his medications.” He also claims he was wrongfully passed over for promotion to Fire Chief and Training Officer, and demoted from Captain.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • The harassment intensified in 2018, as Mr. January increasingly found himself treated differently from other employees because of his disability and the prescription medications.
  • Around November 2018, [January] made a PowerPoint presentation to management, explaining in detail that he believed that HFD was violating the ADA.
  • January also specifically advised management of his blood sugar issue.
  • Significantly, he warned management that symptoms such as slurred speech could be the result of a disability and could be misconstrued as intoxication.
  • January informed management that he was considering filing a lawsuit against the City.
  • The City retained outside counsel (Jason Casell of the Houston office of Lewis Brisbois) to investigate Mr. January’s complaint.
  • Casell interviewed numerous employees, including Mr. January, around the end of December 2018.
  • Despite conducting an internal investigation of the complaints, HFD did nothing in response to these complaints and would not discuss the matter with Mr. January.
  • In February 2019, Mr. January told management that he intended to go to the EEOC.
  • In fact, he did contact the Texas Workforce Commission – Civil Rights Division and began the process of filing a charge of discrimination with the TWC and the EEOC.
  • Only a few weeks later, HFD took steps to rid itself of Mr. January.
  • On March 28, 2019, Mr. January visited City Hall while off duty.
  • Unbeknownst to Mr. January, his blood sugar had dropped and (as he had warned management in November 2018) his speech had become slurred.
  • Even though Mr. January was off duty, HFD seized this opportunity to declare that he was intoxicated on medications.
  • HFD tried to compel Mr. January to take a drug test at a local pharmacy, which is contrary to HFD policy. Mr. January declined.
  • HFD also claimed that Mr. January was insubordinate, which makes no sense, given that he was off duty.
  • January later tested his blood sugar and found that it had dropped significantly. He also arranged for a professional drug test, which confirmed that he was not intoxicated.
  • He informed HFD of the negative drug test and offered to provide a copy.
  • HFD nonetheless proceeded to terminate Mr. January.

The suit alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Here is a copy of the complaint:

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.

Check Also

Four Firefighters Seek to Hold DCFEMS in Contempt Over No-Beard Rule

Four members of the DCFEMS are asking a federal court to reopen two religious discrimination cases and find the city in contempt for violating a permanent injunction by enforcing the no beard requirement. Steven Chasin, Calvert Potter, Jasper Sterling, Hassan Umrani filed the action earlier this month

Court Rules Volunteer Compensation Makes Them Employees

The US District Court for the Western District of Washington has ruled that two believed-to-be volunteer firefighters who received shift stipends and point-based bonuses were actually employees entitled to minimum wage and overtime for the 3,000 hours per year they claim they worked. Luis Aponte and Jennifer Self served with Mason County Fire Protection District No. 16.