Fighting Fires May Not Be Essential Function Of Planning And Research Job

John Chesak was an employee of the Orange County, Florida Fire Department from 1986, when he was hired as firefighter recruit, until he was discharged on March 20, 2006. At the time of his discharge, Chesak was a lieutenant on the Planning and Research Bureau of the Fire Administration Division, a position he had held since July 2005.

In 2002, Chesak was diagnosed with Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic condition which is progressive and untreatable. At that time, Chesak was an EMS coordinator in the training division. In 2005, Chesak appeared for an annual physical examination, and was asked to take a treadmill stress test. However, because of the weakness in his legs caused by the muscular dystrophy, Chesak stated he could not perform the test. The doctor refused Chesak’s request to take a “chemical stress test,” and after this physical placed Chesak on non-exertional work restrictions pending the completion of the stress test.

When told he could not remain in the training division, Chesak applied for a position as a lieutenant in Planning and Research. The primary duties of a lieutenant in Planning and Research involved data management. During his five years in that position, Chesak’s predecessor had never been required to perform combat firefighting duties.

Eventually, the County took the position that no matter which position he held, Chesak had to be able to perform firefighting duties. Eventually, the County terminated Chesak because of his inability to do so.

Chesak challenged the County’s termination decision under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The County argued that Chesak was not a “qualified individual” with a disability because he could not perform the essential functions and job requirements of a training lieutenant. In particular, the County argued that Chesak, like all other firefighters in the Department, had to be able to engage in fire suppression duties.

After considering all the facts, a federal district court found that Chesak was entitled to a trial in his ADA lawsuit. The Court concluded that “there is sufficient evidence that firefighting duties were not an essential function of Chesak’s position, and that he is a qualified individual under the ADA. In particular, the Court notes that the job description contained with the vacancy announcement did not include firefighting duties. Furthermore, Chesak’s predecessor was never required to perform such duties throughout his five years in the same position.”

Chesak v. Orange County Government, 2007 WL 4162942 (M.D.Fla. 2007).

This article appears in the February 2008 issue