Firefighter scared of burning buildings claims disability discrimination

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A Houston fire captain won a $362,000 disability discrimination case based on a claim his refusal to enter burning buildings was a disability – but last week, the decision was overturned in the Texas Supreme court.

On two occasions, firefighter Shayn Proler arrived at the scenes of fires and was unable to enter the buildings – once in 2004, an accusation he disputed. The second time, in 2006, he was unable to put on his gear, take orders, or even walk straight. A hospital assessment diagnosed him as having experienced a temporary episode of global transient amnesia, and Proler was reassigned to the firefighter training academy.

Proler responded by filing a successful administrative appeal, and was reassigned to his former duties – but his employer appeal to a trial court, leading Proler to counterclaim for disability discrimination. While he did not claim that he was indeed disabled, he said the City of Houston perceived him to be disabled, and therein lay the discrimination.

However, the court couldn’t see eye to eye with Proler.

“A job skill required for a specific job is not a disability if most people lack that skill,” the court wrote. “Were the law otherwise, any person who, for instance, wishes to be a ballerina or professional basketball player could routinely sue for disability discrimination if the Bolshoi or the San Antonio Spurs declined employment.”

  • Sharon on 2014-06-16 4:15:27 PM

    I'm having trouble understanding this individual's rationale for requesting he be re-posted to a position to which he clearly is no longer suited, and thus, the ensuing litigation.

    Without knowing all the facts of this case, it would seem that his employer was not trying to sever his employment, and in fact accommodated what appeared to be bona fide occupational barriers, by reassigning him to a more suitable role. I get that he didn't want to be perceived as disabled, but let's get real - he demonstrated an inability to carry out the essential tasks of his occupation on more than one occasion, and people's lives depend upon his ability to undertake those tasks. Have we become so litigious that we fail to use any measure of good sense anymore?

    IMHO, the employer showed good judgement in reassigning this firefighter to a position within his limitations AND respected his need for same, even if he didn't personally acknowledge them!

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