Is your Dispatcher Crazy?

Mental Illness? Okay. Addiction? Fine. Do the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act mesh with a public safety job?


Numerous lawsuits have been filed on behalf of public safety employees, stating they have been fired unjustly due to their disability. In Houck v. City of Prairie Village, a mentally-ill police officer who had a lengthy list of mental health issues, including PTSD, bi-polar disorder, and suicidal tendencies, was dismissed after being involved in a domestic dispute with his wife. Although the court recognized the causal relationship between behaviors and his mental illness, it held, "A person who commits a criminal act as a result of a disabling condition is not excused from the employment consequences of the criminal act because of the disability."

In Singer v. Office of Senate Sergeant at Arms v. Office of Senate Fair Employment Practices, a U.S. Capitol Police dispatcher was absent excessively, stating his depression caused problems with abusing alcohol. The department worked with him, but agreement broke down over removal of past discipline. The plaintiff filed an EEOC lawsuit stating he was being discriminated against because his behavior was caused by his disability. The Federal Circuit Court stated he was not entitled to a "fresh start".

So what does all this mean? As an emergency communications operator or supervisor, you have little say over what human resources is doing. Hiring practices are usually out of your hands and I'm sure not having to follow all the legislative changes concerning employment is a blessing to most of us. On the other hand, most of us care deeply about our work and want to make sure the most qualified people are involved in the life and death dance we call an occupation. Studying the ADA and how it affects public safety is important and, especially, for supervisors could keep you from being dragged into court.

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