Most of us recognize that EMS professionals are a "major link in the public safety response chain." Although in some cases, the police officers and firefighters receive the praise, and some EMTs are thought of as only glorified ambulance drivers, their contribution to the health and safety of the public cannot be denied. Nevertheless, it has been alleged that Baltimore County, Maryland, has refused to hire qualified paramedics simply because they have Diabetes. How unfair is that?
The ADA prohibits this type of discrimination
The Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA, makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against "qualified" individuals with disabilities in making employment decisions such as hiring. Under the ADA, an individual is considered to have a disability if they meet one of the following requirements:
- Have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
- Have a record of such an impairment; or
- Are regarded as having such an impairment.
Diabetes is now considered a disability under the new ADAAA (Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act passed in 2008). It had been a difficult, no-win situation for diabetics prior to the amendments. Before, diabetics could be denied a job explicitly because of their diabetes. However, because of the state of the law before 2008, they couldn't file a claim of discrimination in court if they took good care of themselves. Now, because the ADAAA covers chronic illnesses like diabetes, diabetics are protected.
Baltimore County allegedly had discriminatory policies regarding employee health
In addition to the two highly qualified EMT applicants who were denied employment simply because they had diabetes, it seems Baltimore County, Maryland had a policy and practice of disability-related discrimination.
According to the Complaint filed in United States v. Baltimore County, Maryland, ten (10) then-current and former EMTs, police officers, firefighters and civilian employees alleged disability-based discrimination founded on inappropriate and overly intrusive medical examinations. These examinations were alleged to be wholly unrelated to their ability to perform their respective job functions.
A consent decree is entered after Baltimore County settles lawsuit
The Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, Thomas E. Perez had this comment regarding Baltimore County's actions:
The result of the county's discriminatory policies and practices was to force employees, including veteran police officers and firefighters, to submit to invasive and unjustified medical examinations and inquiries. The ADA does not tolerate this type of conduct and neither does the Justice Department.
The consent decree requires the county to pay $475,000 to the complainants along with other work-related benefits, such as retirement benefits and back pay. The county is also required to adopt new policies and procedures regarding the administration of medical examinations and medical inquiries, among other policy changes.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your status under the ADA, or any other issue regarding your employment, please contact Wrady Michel & Kingeither online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.