Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
80447
970-627-3732
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Consider This... June/July 2002 Issue Number 36

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

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Upcoming Events

Fire-Rescue International August 23-26, 2002. Kansas City, MO.

Fifth Annual Women Chief Fire Officers Fire Service Leadership Conference November 8-10, 2002 at Motorola University, Schaumburg, Illinois. Call 630-990-2390 or email djarvis@interaccess.com for more information.

10th International Conference of Fire Service Women April 23-27, 2003. Denver, CO. Contact info@wfsi.org for more information.

In the News


Disabled Firefighters? It’s No Joke

When fire departments started modifying stations to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), most firefighters saw it as a bad joke. "Oh right," they complained. "Like we’ll be hiring firefighters in wheelchairs now." Although the likelihood of a fire suppression recruit in a wheelchair is remote, the fact is that some people with legal disabilities will want to become emergency responders. And you had better not arbitrarily exclude them from consideration.

Consider the case of Kelly Gillen, a woman who was born with a deformed arm and only one fully functional hand. Ms. Gillen’s ultimate dream was to become a doctor, and toward this goal she took and passed the Massachusetts EMT course. Despite her disability, she was able to do everything required of her in the course.

After receiving her EMT certification, Ms. Gillen applied for work with the Fallon Ambulance Service. She was offered employment conditional on a physical exam, but was subsequently turned down for employment even before a doctor examined her. The reason that was given was that ambulance work required doing two-handed lifts, and Ms. Fallon’s disability automatically disqualified her.

Ms. Gillen went on to gain employment with AMR Ambulance Service and the Boston Emergency Medical Service, where she performed successfully without special accommodation. Prior to being hired by AMR, Ms. Gillen was able to demonstrate her ability to lift up to 90 lbs. which was more than the 70 lbs. lifting requirement established by Fallon.

Ms. Gillen sued for discrimination under the ADA, and although the lower court granted summary judgment to Fallon, this decision was reversed on appeal. The appeals court pointed out that Fallon did not routinely test anyone for lifting ability prior to hiring– its referral for such a test for Ms. Gillen would have been a first. The court said that Fallon’s requirement for doing a two-handed lift was based on how EMT work is traditionally done but did not prove conclusively that two hands are required to perform the task.

The ADA prohibits employment decisions based on stereotypes about a disability but does not prohibit decision making based on the actual attributes of the disability. In other words, you cannot assume that someone is unable to lift a stretcher because he or she has only one hand. You have to give that person the opportunity to prove their ability. However, if someone cannot lift because of being one-handed, then it is legal to refuse to hire that person.

The purpose of the ADA is to give people with disabilities equal access to the workplace. The law does not require that every disabled person be hired for every job. But if someone with a disability wants to try for a job, even firefighting, the law says you must give them equal opportunity to prove their merit and qualification for the position.

Source: Gillen v. Fallon Ambulance Service, 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, 01-1642

News Brief

A federal judge has recently thrown out a consent decree for hiring firefighters in the City of Los Angeles. The consent decree was entered into by the city and U.S. Department of Justice in 1974 to diversify the fire department, which at that time was 90% white. Currently, blacks, Asians and Hispanics make up 50% of the workforce. The judge stated that the consent decree had "outlasted its purpose."

Source: Associated Press, April 8, 2002


Sexual Harassment Update

Other Protected Classes

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act identified five "protected classes" for which it would enforce anti-discrimination law in the workplace. These five classes or characteristics are race, color, ethnicity or national origin, sex, and religion. Further amendments to this law have added age and disability as protected classes.

These are the only protected classes recognized at the national level and enforced through the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC). However, states and local jurisdictions can add other protected classes to this list, and enforce the law through the applicable human rights offices. Sexual orientation is most commonly added to the list of classes that cannot be discriminated against. It is illegal to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation in over a dozen states and most major cities. But other characteristics or classes can be added if voters agree that such protection should be offered.

One protection that is offered in some areas is anti-discrimination based on physical appearance. In particular, in places that offer this protection, someone cannot be discriminated against because of his or her weight or height. This so-called "short and fat" law recently was used in San Francisco to force a change in the policy of Jazzercise that all instructors be thin. A qualified instructor candidate who was 5' 8" and weighed 240 pounds was rejected for employment solely based on her appearance. A similar law exists which applies to the State of Michigan.

Other local protected classes might include anti-discrimination for housing based on employment. The City of Portland, Oregon and New York City offer this type of protection. (See archives, July/August 2000.) The State of Minnesota has a law that forbids businesses from discriminating against motorcycle riders. Three other states are considering similar laws.

Everyone should be familiar with federal civil rights law and the protections offered under the EEOC. But don’t forget to check on local and state codes when learning what exactly is considered a protected class in your area.

Sources: New York Times, November 21, 2001
Associated Press, May 5, 2002


Linda F. Willing, 2002

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