Fire Department Has Right To Rely On Own Color Vision Test

When Cory James applied to be a firefighter for the City of Los Angeles, he received an offer of employment contingent on passing a City-administered medical examination. When the examination revealed that James had inadequate color vision, the City withdrew its offer. James then sued the City, claiming he was the victim of illegal discrimination.

The California Court of Appeals upheld the City’s decision. James argued that because he achieved a passing score on the Expanded Ishihara Test – one of the color vision tests used by the City – when the test was administered by his ophthalmologist, he thus demonstrated that he was capable of performing the essential job functions of a firefighter, James argued that the City’s failure to provide him reasonable accommodation or engage in the interactive process after receiving evidence of this outside testing violated the law.

The Court ruled: “We do not see it that way. This position assumes that with the passing of the privately administered Expanded Ishihara Test, James somehow magically wiped his slate clean of the three failing results he had obtained in the City-administered color proficiency tests, and therefore the City was somehow obligated to ignore those results in assessing his appeal. In the absence of any evidence that its own tests were unfair or discriminatory, the City was justified in basing its hiring decisions on its own color proficiency tests.

“The City’s requirement that firefighters and police officers be able to promptly and accurately identify colors is a bona fide occupational qualification which is not violative of the law. This test was designed for the City of Los Angeles by Dr. Robert Goldberg, the City’s former Assistant Medical Director. The test was formulated after the City conducted a research study directed toward developing an efficient, standardized, and objective test for color perception deficiency, in order to ensure that firefighters and police officers have the ability to promptly and accurately identify colors. Significantly, the study included a job analysis that pinpointed 29 firefighter tasks for which accurate color vision is essential for effective job performance.”

James v. City of Los Angeles, 2010 WL 5095370 (Cal. App. 2 Dist. 2010).

This article appears in the March 2011 issue.