Suit Claims Atlanta Fire Failed To Accommodate BC With Long-COVID

A battalion chief with the Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department who developed long-COVID in 2021, has filed suit claiming the city violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying his request for a light-duty assignment. BC Sean Johnson filed suit in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia alleging disability discrimination and failure to accommodate under the ADA.

BC Johnson alleges that despite contracting COVID while on duty, he was required to use his sick leave while recuperating. When his sick leave was exhausted, he requested a light-duty or administrative assignment. That request was denied. Quoting from the complaint:

  • In the last week and a half of August 2021, Plaintiff was exposed to COVID- 19 at fire stations in the course of performing his job duties.
  • Subsequently, on or about August 30, 2021, Plaintiff was also exposed to an airborne toxic pesticide while on duty.
  • As a result of these exposures, Plaintiff developed severe “long-Covid” symptoms.
  • Plaintiff attempted to see a physician employed by Defendant on September 1, 2021, but was turned away due to presenting Covid-like symptoms.
  • Plaintiff experienced severe symptoms due to his condition and consequently exhausted his leave protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • On March 14, 2022, Plaintiff requested a light-duty assignment or administrative assignment as an accommodation for his condition.
  • Defendant denied Plaintiff’s request for accommodation on the grounds that they only provide light-duty assignments to firefighters injured in the line of duty.
  • Defendant has a policy of requiring accommodation of on-the-job injuries for its employees, and Plaintiff was injured on-the-job.
  • To Plaintiff’s knowledge, no firefighter who suffered from Covid was deemed injured in the line of duty, despite confirmed transmission at fire stations.
  • Plaintiff asserts that due to his high rank, he could have been easily accommodated in a light-duty or administrative assignment without undue hardship to Defendant.
  • Plaintiff further believes he was discriminated against based on a class of disability because all Covid-related disabilities were automatically mischaracterized as unrelated to the job by Defendant.
  • Although Defendant purports to provide a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for the adverse action, this reason is a pre-text.
  • Plaintiff requested a reasonable accommodation of disabilities.
  • Specifically, transfer to a position with light duty work or an administrative assignment.
  • Defendant failed to engage in the interactive process with Plaintiff, even though doing so would not have been an undue hardship.
  • But for disability status and/or request for a reasonable accommodation of the same, Plaintiff would not have suffered the adverse employment action.
  • Plaintiff was treated less favorably in the terms or conditions of employment than others outside of protected class, i.e. non-disabled employees and/or employees who did not request a reasonable accommodation for their disability.
  • Plaintiff was able to perform the essential functions of job with a reasonable accommodation.
  • Plaintiff requested that Defendant accommodate his disability by transfer to a position with light duty work.
  • Defendant refused to provide with reasonable accommodations, even though to do so would not impose an undue hardship.
  • By refusing to accommodate, Defendant violated the ADA, as amended.
  • Defendant has willfully and wantonly disregarded rights, and failure to accommodate disability was undertaken in bad faith.

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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