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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 Around that time, Coffman became more withdrawn and defensive; because of two recent suicides by firefighters, Coffman's supervisors worried about her mental state and had her psychologically evaluated.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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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