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 Around that time, Coffman became more withdrawn and defensive; because of two recent suicides by firefighters, Coffman's supervisors worried about her mental state and had her psychologically evaluated.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. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  2. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  3. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  4. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  5. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

ADVERTISEMENT