Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Disability law runs amok in Norwalk

According to the the Norwalk Advocate, the city of Norwalk, Connecticut has been told, in essence, that timed exams for firefighters violate the ADA:
STAMFORD - A state human rights investigator has faulted the city for denying a learning-disabled firefighter's request for extra time on a test for captain's rank, documents show.

The city has defended its handling of the request, claiming fire captains must be able to read and interpret information quickly at emergency scenes. But disability rights experts said the city likely violated rules for disability cases and criticized its lack of a standardized procedure for employees who request extra time and other accommodations.
The city argues, in essence, that this is stark raving mad:
The reasoning is that lieutenants and captains are in charge at emergency scenes and have to make split-second decisions, Wirzbicki and other city officials said. Those decisions often are based on floor plans, hazardous material reports and similar documents, they said.

Speed is an "essential function of the job," the city argued. If Lenotti couldn't finish the test on time, it means he doesn't have the quick reading, writing and thinking skills necessary to be a captain, they said.

"You don't get extra time at a fire scene" ...

But alas, the notion that the Fire Department's purpose is to keep people from dying horribly in fires does not cut any ice with the lawyers:
"You're supposed to give accommodations, period," said Suzanne Kitchen, a clinical instructor and consultant for the Job Accommodation Network, a federally funded non-profit that provides employers with advice on disability rights. "No is never the right answer."

This reminds me, sadly, of the hundreds of firefighters who volunteered to help with Hurricane Katrina, only to be sent to Georgia for mandatory sexual harassment training.

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