Police Lieutenant Must Be Able To Work Outside Office

Humberto Valdes was a lieutenant in the City of Doral, Florida Police Department. All lieutenants in the Department worked eight-hour shifts; Valdes was assigned to the afternoon shift.

While on duty in March 2009, Valdes was involved in a car crash. After the crash, Valdes developed a panic disorder and began seeing a psychiatrist for treatment. From April through August 2009, the psychiatrist recommended that Valdes work on light duty. The City accommodated Valdes and he performed well. In October 2009, Valdes returned to full duty without restrictions. In November 2009, the psychiatrist determined that Valdes’s panic disorder had reached “maximum medical improvement.”

While on duty in September 2010, Valdes responded to a call involving a collapsed person who was in distress. The person vomited on Valdes’s face and eventually died. The incident aggravated Valdes’s symptoms that had arisen after the 2009 car crash. Accordingly, Valdes returned for treatment, this time with a psychotherapist who diagnosed Valdes with generalized anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Valdes’s therapy sessions conflicted with his work schedule, but the City again accommodated his needs and allowed him to modify his work hours. Valdes began working from his desk except in emergencies. Eventually, a doctor limited Valdes to “office work during the day,” and recommended that his work should not involve driving a police car, testifying in court, or managing a law enforcement situation requiring patrol or arrest.

The City concluded that Valdes could not return to work as a lieutenant because his restrictions conflicted with a lieutenant’s responsibilities. The City offered Valdes a clerk’s job, but when Valdes responded that he would “not comply” with the City’s extended deadline, the City interpreted Valdes’s response as a rejection and resignation.

Valdes sued the City under the Americans With Disabilities Act, contending that the City’s obligation to reasonably accommodate his disability required it to continue his assignment to a desk job. A federal court of appeals disagreed, and rejected Valdes’ lawsuit.

The Court noted that “the City’s written job description identifies many duties that a lieutenant must perform outside the office, including testifying in court and other hearings, making arrests, investigating robberies, homicides, and other crimes, attending trainings, and delivering first aid. In addition, according to the job description, a lieutenant supervises and participates in a variety of special criminal investigative units or specialized support activities including staff training, vice, narcotics and criminal intelligence investigations, internal review functions, court service and licensing activities, and communications operations.

“The experiences of past and current lieutenants confirm that there are occasions when a lieutenant must work outside the office. Valdes stated during his deposition that as a lieutenant he had managed two hostage incidents, patrolled, made arrests, seized property, driven a police car, spot-checked his officers, responded to emergencies, and testified in court. Indeed, Valdes’s disabilities arose from two events – the 2009 car crash and the 2010 vomiting incident – that occurred while Valdes was working outside the office.

“In sum, the evidence is that a lieutenant must have the ability to work outside the office even though he might not frequently be called upon to demonstrate that ability. In that sense, a lieutenant is like a lifeguard, who must have the ability to rescue a swimmer in distress although he might not spend much time actually engaged in that essential activity. Given the substantial evidence favoring the City, there is no basis for a reasonable jury to find that Valdes could perform the essential function of working outside the office. The City is thus entitled to summary judgment on Valdes’s ADA claims.”

Valdes v. City of Doral, 2016 WL 6407370 (11th Cir. 2016).