Lieutenant Seeks Disability Accommodation for Promotional Exam Due to Medical Leave

A Rhode Island fire lieutenant who was on extended sick leave when the department announced a promotional examination for captain, has filed suit against the fire department and his own union claiming their refusal to provide an accommodation to him violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

East Providence Fire Lieutenant James Lynch filed suit last month in Providence County Superior Court. Today, Lt. Lynch’s suit was removed to US District Court by the City of East Providence because the allegations are based on the ADA, a federal law.

The suit claims the city and the union failed to provide a reasonable accommodation for the medical issues that led to his extended leave. As explained in the complaint:

  • Plaintiff has been a firefighter on the East Providence Fire Department since May of 2007, and currently holds the rank of Lieutenant in the Department.
  • On June 29, 2021, the Plaintiff encountered several medical issues that caused him to take a temporary medical leave from the Department to recover.
  • As part of the Plaintiffs Leave, he was told by both a medical treatment team, and the Chief of the Department to disconnect from all work-related email, Department related social media, and any other Department sponsored forum.
  • In support thereof, the Chief expressed to the Plaintiff that he would inform the Plaintiff of any pertinent information via phone call while the Plaintiff was on Leave.
  • On July 28, 2021, (while the Plaintiff was on Leave) the Department posted notice that it would be administering the Firefighter’s Promotional Exam (“Exam”) for firefighters who met certain criteria relative to rank, number of years on the Department, etc.
  • The Department instituted a registration deadline date (“Deadline”) of August 9, 2021 which Firefighters must have registered by in order to sit for the Exam.
  • The Exam consists of One Hundred (100) questions, and are tied to Four (4) books, and Four (4) departmental standard operating guidelines (“SOG”).
  • Eighty (80) questions on the Exam relate to the Four (4) books and Twenty (20) questions on the exam relate to the SOG material.
  • The Plaintiff was never informed by any individual through any form of communication of the notice for the administration of the Exam.
  • Further, the Plaintiff was an eligible candidate who met the criteria required to sit for the Exam.
  • The Plaintiff returned from his Leave to active duty on the Department October 9, 2021. Upon his return to the Department, he had discovered (for the first time) the notice for the Exam’s administration, making his initial discovery of the notice Fifty-Four (54) days past the deadline set for registration.
  • On October 9, 2021, the Plaintiff texted the Chief of the Department addressing the fact that he was not informed of the Exam’s tentative administration, to which the Chief responded that he would “look into this”.
  • On October 14, 2021, the Chief of the Department informed the Plaintiff via text message that the Plaintiff was permitted to sit for the Test, stating “Ur good for the Captain test. …”
  • As a result of being unaware of the Exam’s administration prior to October 9, the Plaintiff was provided with only Twelve (12) days to prepare for the Exam in anticipation of its administration.
  • The material needed to prepare for the Exam is voluminous in nature, requiring Four (4) different books (Two (2) of which are over Five Hundred (500) pages, One (1) being One Hundred and Thirty-Six (136) pages, One (1) being Two Hundred and Thirty-Four (234) pages, and the last being Thirty-Eight (38) pages), and Five (5) different books on the Departmental Standard Operating Guidelines (“SOG”) that were as long as Thirty-Eight (38) pages.
  • Based on the pure volume of the Exam preparation material, it would be objectively impossible to prepare for the Exam in the short period of time the Plaintiff was provided after being informed of the Exam’s administration.
  • The Plaintiff sat for the Exam regardless of being unable to prepare in the manner and amount of time every other firefighter was afforded.
  • Subsequently, the Union informed the Plaintiff that because of his late registration, they were refusing to release or consider his Exam scores for promotional consideration.
  • Plaintiff submitted a grievance to the Union regarding his late registration occurring through no fault of his own, and rather was the result of the Department failing to inform him of notice to the Exam’s administration.
  • East Providence Firefighters Local 850 … voted not to go forward with Mr. Lynch’s grievance related to the Exam, without providing any justification or explanation for reaching that decision.
  • Plaintiff was not provided with “reasonable accommodations” from the Department, or the Union, pertaining to the administration of the Exam in consideration of the circumstances surrounding the Plaintiffs Leave
  • The Department and Union’s actions have caused the Plaintiff to be put in a position to potentially suffer irreparable and immediate harm should another firefighter be appointed to the promotional position based on their Exam scores, as the Plaintiff will have lost the opportunity to a promotion he was otherwise entitled to apply for.

Lt. Lynch seeks an injunction blocking any promotions until he has the opportunity to prepare for and take the exam with having been afforded the same time as other members. 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.

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