ILNews

Female firefighter not discriminated against

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indianapolis Fire Department didn't discriminate against a short female firefighter when it ordered her to be psychologically evaluated or perform driving tests, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed today. The Circuit Court found the department had a compelling interest in assuring she was both physically and mentally fit to perform her duties.

In Tonya Coffman v. Indianapolis Fire Department, et al., No. 08-1642, Tonya Coffman alleged the Indianapolis Fire Department discriminated against her because of her gender, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by requiring her to have psychological examinations, and violated her due process rights under the 14th Amendment.

Coffman, who is barely 5 feet tall, was asked to take safety evaluations of her driving and EMS skills after some firefighters were concerned that she wasn't able to safely see over the steering wheel and reach the pedals. Around that time, Coffman became more withdrawn and defensive; because of two recent suicides by firefighters, Coffman's supervisors worried about her mental state and had her psychologically evaluated. During this time, she was moved from active duty to light-duty status, and then back to active duty.

Following the evaluations, Coffman filed suit. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of IFD on all of her federal claims.

Coffman claimed IFD discriminated against her because she is a short female. The 7th Circuit Court acknowledged it hadn't yet decided whether it recognizes the "sex plus" theory of discrimination, which hinges on disparate treatment based on sex in conjunction with another characteristic. But the Circuit Court declined to rule on the matter because Coffman failed to develop her "sex plus" argument, wrote Judge Ilana Rovner. She also failed under the argument that the defendants took an adverse employment action at least in part on account of sex. She also didn't link her treatment, either through circumstantial or direct evidence, with the fact that she is female.

The Circuit Court didn't find her job criticism, performance evaluations, and psychological evaluations amounted to gender harassment that created a hostile working environment. While the exams were unpleasant, they were not demeaning, degrading, or hostile, wrote the judge.

The IFD didn't violate the ADA when having her undergo psychological examinations because the decision to refer her for fitness of duty evaluations took place shortly after two other firefighters committed suicide. Many firefighters said Coffman didn't seem like herself, and she became guarded over time. Her supervisors were concerned she was exhibiting signs of depression.

"Although a psychological evaluation in response to 'withdrawn' and 'defensive' behavior might not be job-related in many vocations, we do not second-guess the propriety of such an evaluation for a firefighter," she wrote. "The Department has an obligation to the public to ensure that its workforce is both mentally and physically capable of performing what is doubtless mentally and physically demanding work."

The Circuit Court also affirmed IFD didn't violate Coffman's substantive and procedural due process rights by disclosing her medical records and failing to hold a hearing before suspending her from regular firefighting duties.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  3. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  4. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

  5. Agreed on 4th Amendment call - that was just bad policing that resulted in dismissal for repeat offender. What kind of parent names their boy "Kriston"?

ADVERTISEMENT