Arizona Firefighter Suing for Disability Discrimination

An Arizona firefighter who was terminated in 2017 following recuperation from a knee-injury, has filed suit claiming the department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Gregory J. Gannon was a firefighter with the Sedona Fire District.

Gannon suffered a knee injury on April 9, 2017. He sought to return to work in July, but the department’s physician refused to allow it because he was not “100% healed.” The suit alleges that Gannon was able to perform the essential functions of being a firefighter but that the doctor failed to evaluate him according to the relevant standards.

According to the complaint:

  • On or about June 15, 2017, Mr. Gannon provided SFD with a return to work letter from his orthopedic doctor that stated he could return to work by July 5, 2017 with no restrictions but could wear a brace if needed.
  • SFD refused to permit Mr. Gannon to return to work at that time.
  • Upon information and belief, SFD was imposing a “100% healed” requirement upon Mr. Gannon.
  • On July 3, 2017, the Monday after Mr. Gannon’s FMLA leave expired, he met with SFD’s designated physician for a “return to duty” appointment as required by SFD.
  • During that appointment, the doctor asked if Mr. Gannon “felt 100%” with respect to the physical standards applicable to firefighters.
  • Mr. Gannon confirmed that he met the standards, exceeded them, and likely exceeded the physical ability of some of his co-workers.
  • In fact, Mr. Gannon, shortly before his return to work letter in June 2017, had been given a series of physical tests by his physical therapist (highly experienced in treating firefighters) demonstrating that he had the necessary strength, flexibility, ability, and stamina to return to work.
  • The SFD doctor gave a visual examination of Mr. Gannon’s knee but did not perform any performance or fitness tests of any kind.
  • The doctor then stated he wanted to speak with Mr. Gannon’s orthopedic doctor.
  • On July 6, 2017, the SFD doctor called Mr. Gannon to say that he could not clear Mr. Gannon to work because the orthopedic doctor could not guarantee with 100% certainty that there was “no chance of reinjury.”
  • Mr. Gannon requested of the SFD doctor that he permitted to perform physical tests to show that he met the standards (since SFD had not requested this), and the doctor said he would look at those tests but that he did not know what standards to even test.
  • However, shortly thereafter on July 6, 2017, SFD adopted the doctor’s position as its own and, through HR, terminated Mr. Gannon immediately over the phone on July 6, 2017.
  • Mr. Gannon appealed his termination and repeatedly requested that he be allowed to return to work and/or be medically tested to demonstrate his ability to meet or exceed the relevant standards.
  • SFD refused.

The suit alleges a single count of disability discrimination under the ADA. The case was filed in US District Court for the District of Arizona. 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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