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Judge rules against former deputy in Taser suit

May 9, 2011

A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Hamilton County sheriff and other officials in a former employee’s lawsuit filed after the employee was fired for refusing to be shocked by a Taser as part of a training session.

Ray Robert worked in law enforcement for nearly 30 years. He began working as a civil deputy process server for the sheriff’s department after his retirement. This was an at-will position. Hamilton County Sheriff Douglas Carter instituted a policy in 2008 requiring all civil deputy process servers to carry Tasers and also required that anyone who would carry one must receive a single one-to-five second exposure to the Taser.

Robert refused, claiming he had a back condition that would not allow it. The sheriff’s department offered him a control room position with similar pay and hours, but the job did not include a department car and other related benefits. Robert eventually declined the job and was fired.

Robert filed his suit, Ray F. Robert v. Douglas G. Carter, individually and in his capacity of Sheriff of Hamilton County, Ind., Hamilton County Council and Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, No. 1:09-CV-0425, in April 2009 in the Southern District of Indiana. U.S. Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment May 3.

Robert claimed the defendants failed to exempt him from the Taser training or to provide him with a reasonable accommodation in violation of his rights under the American with Disabilities Act and that his employment was terminated without a hearing in violation of his procedural and substantive due process rights.

Judge Magnus-Stinson found Robert’s inability to participate in the training and consequently his inability to use a Taser rendered him unable to perform his essential job functions, so he didn’t meet the threshold requirement for ADA protection. The Taser exposure requirement, as determined by Sheriff Carter, is essential to the role of civil deputy process server.

The District Court also found that the accommodation Robert received – a position in the control room – was reasonable and Robert doesn’t have the right under the ADA to refuse a reasonable accommodation simply because it was not the one he preferred.

Also, because he was an at-will employee, Robert had no property interest in his employment and therefore no right to a hearing. Robert also didn’t raise an issue of fact sufficient to give rise to a substantive due process claim, wrote Judge Magnus-Stinson.

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