California Captain Files Disability Discrimination Suit

A fire captain with a California fire department has filed suit claiming the refusal to allow him to return to full-duty following a non-work-related injury constitutes disability discrimination under state law. Joseph Basinski filed suit against the Valley Center Fire Protection District alleging two counts of discrimination.

According to the complaint, Captain Basinski was off due to an injury in August, 2021. When he sought to return to work, the department refused to accept a return to duty clearance from his own physician. Instead, he was sent for a fitness for duty evaluation by a department chosen doctor. The department’s concern appears to have been over a possible “seizure disorder.”

The resulting delay caused Captain Basinski to exhaust his sick and vacation leave. He was also forced to accept assignment to a non-line administrative position.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • After November 12, 2021 Defendant VCFPD continued to ignore the opinions of Plaintiff’s doctors and the statements quoted above of the doctor it chose to examine Plaintiff, and continued to perceive Plaintiff as disabled and continued to discriminate against b refusing to let Plaintiff return to work as a full duty captain.
  • Plaintiff was kept on forced administrative leave by the Defendants through December 20, 2021.
  • On or about December 20, 2021 … Defendant VCFPD engaged in an act of intentional discrimination against Plaintiff when they fabricated a bogus work restriction for Plaintiff which purportedly required that Plaintiff get no less than seven hours of continuous uninterrupted sleep every 24 hours.
  • This bogus work restriction was not based on any medical evidence specific to Plaintiff or any objective medical evidence that such a work restriction was necessary for Plaintiff but was apparently resulted from some unsolicited, unauthorized and speculative treatment recommendation made by the doctor the Defendants sent Plaintiff to see solely for a fitness for duty examination and which doctor had no authority to attempt to treat Plaintiff and was a person with whom Plaintiff did not have a physician patient relationship.
  • The bogus work restriction fabricated by the Defendants could not be complied with by Plaintiff, or any other ordinary human being, because ordinary human beings can not voluntarily control the specific amount of continuous uninterrupted sleep they get in a particular period of time.
  • The time an ordinary person falls asleep is controlled by that person’s involuntary (that is, autonomic) nervous system as is the amount of time an ordinary person stays asleep. A simple thing like a dream can wake an ordinary person from sleep involuntarily no matter how much that person may want to stay asleep longer as can biological needs experienced during sleep. The Defendant VCFPD knew, or certainly should have known, that a bogus work restriction of a set amount of continuous, uninterrupted sleep in a 24 hour period was not only impossible to comply with but that it was intentionally discriminatory against Plaintiff.
  • Plaintiff is informed and believes, and thereon alleges, no other full duty captain hired by the Defendant VCFPD from December 20, 2021 through the present has ever been required to show he, or she, was getting a minimum of seven hours of continuous, uninterrupted sleep in a twenty-four hour period in order to be deemed fit to take a job as a full duty captain with Defendant VCFPD, including the three new full duty captains hired by Defendant VCFPD.
  • On or about December 21, 2021 … Defendants continued to wrongly perceive Plaintiff to be disabled, took Plaintiff off administrative leave and informed Plaintiff that Plaintiff would be terminated if Plaintiff would not accept the lesser position of Administrative Captain of Training with the Defendant VCFPD.
  • Plaintiff took this lesser position under protest while Plaintiff continued his efforts to be reinstated as a full duty captain with the Defendant VCFPD.
  • No written job description was provided to Plaintiff for the Administrative Captain of Training position until August 1, 2022.

Captain Basinski claims the discrimination he was subjected to was on account of a perceived disability. 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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