Topeka Captain Alleges Race, Disability and FMLA Discrimination

A Topeka, Kansas fire captain has filed suit alleging race and disability discrimination; retaliation; and a violation of the Family Medical Leave Act. Captain Brently Dorsey claims he was passed over for numerous promotions, denied the opportunity for reassignment to positions for which he was eligible for – which would have accommodated his medical condition – and was ultimately forced to take an early retirement in 2022.

Captain Dorsey filed suit today in US District Court for the District of Kansas. The complaint alleges the following:

  • Plaintiff is African American.
  • Plaintiff has leukemia, a medical condition.
  • Leukemia substantially limits Plaintiff’s ability to engage in major life activities, including caring for himself and working.
  • Leukemia substantially limits Plaintiff’s major bodily functions, including, breathing, caring for himself and it causes him pain.
  • Plaintiff began working for Defendants in the Topeka Fire Department on or about December 19, 1994.
  • Plaintiff held the rank of Captain from August of 2015 through May of 2022, when his employment ended.
  • In 2014, Plaintiff applied for the position of Fire Marshal.
  • Plaintiff was not hired for the position despite having supervisory experience and instead, it went to a Caucasian employee without any supervisory experience with the Topeka Fire Department.
  • Plaintiff was on sick leave from January of 2018 through March of 2018.
  • Plaintiff was then on light duty from April 2018 through September 2018.
  • In or about January of 2018, Plaintiff applied for two inspector positions.
  • Plaintiff interviewed for the positions during the time he was out on sick leave.
  • Plaintiff was denied both promotions.
  • Two individuals with less seniority than Plaintiff were hired instead.
  • In or around August of 2018, Plaintiff was officially diagnosed with leukemia.
  • In or around 2018, Plaintiff began taking intermittent FMLA leave and took this leave until his employment ended in May of 2022.
  • Due to his medical condition, Plaintiff attempted to apply for a position that would be less physically demanding on his body so that he could continue working for Defendants.
  • Plaintiff intended to keep working for Defendants until at least the age of 60, which was ten more years.
  • Additionally, before Plaintiff went on light duty, he requested to be able to “ride the car”[non-probationary captains are allowed to serve as acting battalion chiefs]  in November of 2020, but this was denied.
  • When Plaintiff emailed his supervisor and put in his request to “ride the car,” he received a phone call within days from the Interim Operations Chief at the time, stating that he did not meet the requirements to “ride the car” because he did not have the Incident Safety Officer class.
  • However, in January or February of 2022, while on light duty, Plaintiff was riding in the Battalion 3 vehicle with a Caucasian Captain acting as a Battalion Chief for the day.
  • He asked that captain if he had taken the Incident Safety Course and he said he had not.
  • Plaintiff was subjected to different standards for “riding the car” than other Caucasian employees and those who did not have a disability.
  • In March of 2022, four Division Chief positions opened.
  • Plaintiff was qualified for and applied for two of the positions, Fire Marshal and Chief of Administration.
  • One of the requirements for the Fire Marshal position was that applicants must have held the rank of Captain with Defendant for two years.
  • There were no caveats to the requirement, and it was stated twice in the position requirements document.
  • Despite clearly listing these requirements, an individual who is Caucasian, who had never held the rank of Captain with the Topeka Fire Department, was hired for the position.
  • The individual hired as Fire Marshall had approximately six (6) fewer years of seniority than Plaintiff did.
  • The individual hired as Fire Marshall had never held a supervisory position with the Defendants, while Plaintiff had seventeen (17) years of supervisory experience.
  • Plaintiff was not hired for that position.
  • The individual hired for the position was a Caucasian employee who did not even apply for the position.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendants prevented Plaintiff from being promoted to force him out of the Fire Department due to his race and/or his medical condition.

The suit alleges race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, wrongful denial of a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, retaliation, and interference with his FMLA rights by blocking his promotion and thereby penalizing his use of FMLA protected sick leave.

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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