Light-Duty Denial Prompts Gender, Disability and Pregnancy Discrimination Suit in Ohio

An Ohio firefighter is suing her department alleging gender, disability and pregnancy discrimination following the denial of her request for a light-duty assignment. Melissa Holland filed suit against Washington Township claiming the fire department’s decision to limit light-duty assignments to job-related injuries is unlawful.

According to the suit, Holland claims the department changed its light duty policy in 2014 following her first two pregnancies, even though she did not seek a light duty assignment either time. Quoting from the complaint:

  • In 2020, Ms. Holland became pregnant with twins.
  • While 28 weeks pregnant, Ms. Holland’s physician, Dr. David Doucette, advised her to avoid strenuous activity and any heavy lifting for the next 6-8 weeks due to the condition and issues related to her pregnancy.
  • Dr. Doucette provided written documentation to Ms. Holland reflecting his opinion.
  • On November 3, 2020, Ms. Holland provided this documentation from her physician to Washington coupled with a request for any available light duty assignment.
  • Ms. Holland made this request knowing Washington had previously created light duty work for her male co-workers suffering from injuries or medical conditions.
  • Washington denied Ms. Holland’s request stating light duty assignments were only provided to employees that incurred an injury while on duty.
  • Ms. Holland contacted her local union president, Patrick Powell, to communicate with Washington regarding its decision to deny her request.
  • Union President Powell sent written communications to both the Fire Chief and Washington Township Administrator requesting a light duty assignment for Ms. Holland, citing both the ADA and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
  • Despite the written documentation from Ms. Holland’s treating physician and Union President Powell’s written requests, Washington maintained its position and denied light duty for Ms. Holland while pregnant.
  • As a result, Ms. Holland was forced to use her available earned, paid leave balances and coordinate “trade agreements” where she would work shifts for others in exchange for others working shifts for her.
  • This required Ms. Holland to work an additional 24 hours for another employee immediately following her normally scheduled 24-hour shift while pregnant with twins.
  • This required Ms. Holland to work more than a dozen additional shifts when she returned from to work to satisfy these “trade agreements”.
  • Ms. Holland experienced significant mental anguish knowing that she would be required to work significantly more hours upon her return considering the likelihood of care issues that would arise in the future with newborn twins, as well as her other two young children.
  • As a result of this mental anguish and stress, Ms. Holland was hospitalized from December 8, 2020 until she gave birth to the twins, preterm on December 26, 2020.
  • Ms. Holland suffered severe physical and emotional distress, as well as economic hardship because of the Washington’s discrimination.

The suit alleges gender discrimination under Title VII, disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (failure to accommodate), and pregnancy discrimination under Ohio R.C. § 4112.02(A).

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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