Firefighter Applicant Loses ADA Lawsuit

In 2002, Douglas Bradley applied for the position of firefighter/EMT with Arlington County, Virginia. Bradley received an offer of employment conditioned on his passing a mental health examination.

The County had contracted with the Law Enforcement Assessment Center (LEAC) to conduct psychological analysis of applicants and give opinions on their mental status. During Bradley’s examination, he informed a LEAC psychologist that he had suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression throughout much of his life. LEAC ultimately recommended Bradley with reservations.

After reviewing the LEAC report and talking with LEAC officials, a County physician noted that Bradley might not be able to adequately undertake some of the specific duties required of a firefighter/EMT. When the Fire Chief rejected Bradley for the job, he responded with a lawsuit contending that the County violated his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

The federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Bradley’s lawsuit. Bradley claimed that while his mental impairments did not themselves limit any major life activity, the County regarded him as substantially limited in his ability to work. Under the ADA, one potentially qualifies as having a disability if the employer regards an individual as having an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

The Court rejected Bradley’s argument. The Court ruled that Bradley would be required to show that the County perceived him to be significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs within various classes. The Court held that “the evidence only establishes that the County may have regarded Bradley as unable to undertake the duties of a firefighter/EMT. Bradley suggests that the County regarded him as unfit for other public safety jobs, such as police officer, because these jobs employ similar mental health standards and screening. But this is largely speculative. The County’s ultimate decision on Bradley’s ability to perform as a firefighter/EMT necessarily depended upon the unique duties of that job, and we cannot conjecture how County officials might evaluate his fitness for another public safety job were he to apply for one.”

Bradley v. Arlington County, Virginia, 2006 WL 1446186 (4th Cir. 2006).

This article appears in the July 2006 issue