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Police Taser Policies and Disability Accommodations

In addition to prohibiting discrimination, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, upon request. A reasonable accommodation is essentially an adjustment or modification provided by the employer so that individuals with disabilities can have equal employment opportunities. Accommodations vary depending on what each individual needs, and not all individuals with disabilities will need the same accommodations. A recent case brings to light the need for employers to carefully consider accommodation requests before denying them and certainly before terminating an employee who has requested one.

Lewis v. City of Union City

The plaintiff was a police detective with the Union City Police Department and had suffered a heart attack in 2009 but was cleared to return to work soon after. In the summer of 2010, the police department modified its nonlethal weapon policy to allow only tasers to be used by officers. One of the requirements under the policy was that every officer that was required to use a taser had to be tased themselves. The rationale was that the officers needed to understand the effectiveness and limitations of that particular nonlethal weapon.

The plaintiff, in this case, was subject to the taser policy so, in light of her medical condition, she consulted with her physician about the danger being tased might pose to her heart. In response, her physician provided notice to her employer that the electrical current from the taser would likely cause her undue physical stress and recommended that she be excused from the tasing requirement.

Response to the request for accommodation

Apparently not recognizing the physician’s letter as a request for accommodation, the police department responded by placing the plaintiff on administrative leave without pay until she was “cleared to work.” She was told she could use her paid time off during the administrative leave and fill out Family and Medical Leave Act paperwork. Despite her explanation that her medical condition only limited her from personally being tased, meaning she was still able to perform all of her other job duties, the police department refused to reinstate her.

Once she had exhausted her paid time off, she requested permission to work outside of the department, but that request was denied. She was ultimately terminated purportedly because she had exhausted her paid time off. The detective filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against the police department, which was dismissed before a trial could be had. She appealed the decision

11th Circuit reversed the dismissal of her claims

In reversing the trial court’s decision to dismiss the detective’s claims, the court pointed out that she had requested a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which her employer unlawfully denied. Basically, the detective’s heart condition required that she avoid being tased during training, which was a reasonable request her employer should have accommodated.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Wrady & Michel, LLC. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!