Captain Who Could Not Make Forcible Arrest Loses Disability Claim

Douglas Daugherty was a captain with the City of Maryland Heights, Missouri Police Department. In 1986, a drunk driver struck Daugherty while he was on duty, partially severing Daugherty’s spinal cord. Although surgery eventually alleviated paralysis Daugherty suffered as a result of the accident, Daugherty’s spinal cord remained partially severed.

In April 2000, Daugherty was diagnosed with degenerative spine disease related to his 1986 injury. Eventually, the City fired Daugherty because of his physical condition.

Daugherty brought a lawsuit under Missouri’s equivalent of the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Missouri Human Rights Act. The Missouri Court of Appeals eventually dismissed Daugherty’s lawsuit. In the Court’s mind, the key question as to whether Daugherty was the victim of illegal disability discrimination turned on what the essential functions of his job were. The Court found that the Department had the right to require that all of its police officers, including its captains, be able to effectuate a forcible arrest.

The Court noted that “Daugherty specifically admits that every police officer for the City is required to do the type of work that a doctor determined that Daugherty cannot or may not be able to do: Enact an arrest, subdue an unwilling perpetrator, lift more than 100 pounds, and pull an accident victim from an accident scene. In its decision to terminate Daugherty, the City relied on the doctor’s uncontradicted opinion that Daugherty could not perform certain duties. Thus, Daugherty has failed to establish that the City regarded him as having a disability, or that he has a disability within the meaning of the Act.”

Daugherty v. City of Maryland Heights, 2006 WL 1736348 (Mo.App. 2006).

This article appears in the September 2006 issue