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Female firefighter not discriminated against

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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 Around that time, Coffman became more withdrawn and defensive; because of two recent suicides by firefighters, Coffman's supervisors worried about her mental state and had her psychologically evaluated.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.

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  1. The $320,000 is the amount the school spent in litigating two lawsuits: One to release the report involving John Trimble (as noted in the story above) and one defending the discrimination lawsuit. The story above does not mention the amount spent to defend the discrimination suit, that's why the numbers don't match. Thanks for reading.

  2. $160k? Yesterday the figure was $320k. Which is it Indiana Lawyer. And even more interesting, which well connected law firm got the (I am guessing) $320k, six time was the fired chancellor received. LOL. (From yesterday's story, which I guess we were expected to forget overnight ... "According to records obtained by the Journal & Courier, Purdue spent $161,812, beginning in July 2012, in a state open records lawsuit and $168,312, beginning in April 2013, for defense in a federal lawsuit. Much of those fees were spent battling court orders to release an independent investigation by attorney John Trimble that found Purdue could have handled the forced retirement better")

  3. The numbers are harsh; 66 - 24 in the House, 40 - 10 in the Senate. And it is an idea pushed by the Democrats. Dead end? Ummm not necessarily. Just need to go big rather than go home. Nuclear option. Give it to the federal courts, the federal courts will ram this down our throats. Like that other invented right of the modern age, feticide. Rights too precious to be held up by 2000 years of civilization hang in the balance. Onward!

  4. I'm currently seeing someone who has a charge of child pornography possession, he didn't know he had it because it was attached to a music video file he downloaded when he was 19/20 yrs old and fought it for years until he couldn't handle it and plead guilty of possession. He's been convicted in Illinois and now lives in Indiana. Wouldn't it be better to give them a chance to prove to the community and their families that they pose no threat? He's so young and now because he was being a kid and downloaded music at a younger age, he has to pay for it the rest of his life? It's unfair, he can't live a normal life, and has to live in fear of what people can say and do to him because of something that happened 10 years ago? No one deserves that, and no one deserves to be labeled for one mistake, he got labeled even though there was no intent to obtain and use the said content. It makes me so sad to see someone I love go through this and it makes me holds me back a lot because I don't know how people around me will accept him...second chances should be given to those under the age of 21 at least so they can be given a chance to live a normal life as a productive member of society.

  5. It's just an ill considered remark. The Sup Ct is inherently political, as it is a core part of government, and Marbury V Madison guaranteed that it would become ever more so Supremely thus. So her remark is meaningless and she just should have not made it.... what she could have said is that Congress is a bunch of lazys and cowards who wont do their jobs so the hard work of making laws clear, oftentimes stops with the Sups sorting things out that could have been resolved by more competent legislation. That would have been a more worthwhile remark and maybe would have had some relevance to what voters do, since voters cant affect who gets appointed to the supremely un-democratic art III courts.

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