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Brownsville answers ADA suit in case of fired police officer

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The city of Brownsville has filed its answer to a former police officer’s suit alleging the city violated the ADA when it fired her shortly after discovering she suffered from Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes headaches, dry eyes and joint pain and swelling.

The officer didn’t disclose that she had the condition at the time she was hired. However, when she began experiencing tingling in her arm, her doctor determined that Sjogren’s syndrome was the cause. More tests were ordered to confirm the diagnosis, but the results wouldn’t be known for two weeks.

During that time, the doctor said the officer should use a sling and be assigned to a light-duty position.

The department had a policy of not providing light-duty assignments to officers who hadn’t completed a probationary period, so it terminated her.

That’s when she sued, claiming the department regarded her as disabled because her condition, while chronic, only caused temporary disability.  

In court papers, the city argued that the officer’s condition didn’t constitute a disability and that it hadn’t regarded her as disabled.

The department also contended that her failure to reveal the condition prior to employment was sufficient reason for dismissal.

The officer said the condition had been controlled with medication until this flare-up and she was not required to reveal it.

Note: The city of Brownsville may have a tough time winning this one. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 requires courts to presume an employee’s disability meets the law’s definition unless the employer can rebut that presumption. It also states that chronic conditions are generally disabilities even when in remission, and the ADA does not require employees to reveal their disabilities unless they need an accommodation.

Advice: This is another example of how a “probationary period” can hurt an employer. The ADA doesn’t recognize reasons for refusing an accommodation based on the employee’s tenure with the employer. If you have a probationary period for new employees, have your attorney review your policy.

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