Ct.: timed test for fire captain violates ADA

Lt. David Lenotti says the fire department of Stamford, Connecticut improperly denied him extra time on its test for promotion to captain even though he had a diagnosis of learning disability. A state human rights investigator has backed Lenotti’s complaint, which is scheduled for a Jan. 23 hearing, but the Stamford authorities beg to differ:

The city has never granted anyone extra time on the lieutenant’s or captain’s exams, said Felicia Wirzbicki, human resources generalist. … The reasoning is that lieutenants and captains are in charge at emergency scenes and have to make split-second decisions, Wirzbicki and other city officials said. Those decisions often are based on floor plans, hazardous material reports and similar documents, they said. Speed is an “essential function of the job,” the city argued. … “You don’t get extra time at a fire scene,” Wirzbicki said.

None of which seems to cut much ice with disabled-rights advocates:

“You’re supposed to give accommodations, period,” said Suzanne Kitchen, a clinical instructor and consultant for the Job Accommodation Network, a federally funded non-profit that provides employers with advice on disability rights. “No is never the right answer.”

That last sound bite is actually quite false as a legal matter; in fact Ms. Kitchen herself is described elsewhere in the article as correctly noting that accommodations may sometimes be refused under the law. But it does have quite a ring to it, though, doesn’t it? (Zach Lowe, “State official: Disability rights apply on fire captain test”, Norwalk Advocate, Jan. 15). Jeff Hall at Created Things comments (Jan. 16).

All of which is very much business as usual in today’s employment discrimination law. Long before the disabled-rights suits came along, fire departments had came under intense attack by feminist litigators seeking to invalidate testing of applicants’ physical strength, agility and so forth, particularly when timed tests were involved. I wrote about this history at some length in The Excuse Factory, a few of the highlights figuring in this 1997 magazine piece. An excerpt:

[In Brunet v. Columbus] Judge Kinneary also disallowed the city’s practice of awarding credit for speed in accomplishing the dummy rescue or other simulated tasks such as hoisting equipment to upper floors (men tended to finish the tasks more quickly than women). Why? Well, Kinneary wrote, again accepting the arguments of plaintiffs’ lawyers, testimony had been given that “sometimes firefighters work all-out, and sometimes they pace themselves; it depends on the task at hand.” In other words, they hurry only sometimes, and other times save their energy because they expect to need it later. From this the judge concluded that all applicants who made it through the tasks at all deserved equal ranking. The case for preferring recruits who could work quickly was merely, he said, “anecdotal.” Yes, you read that right. It seems people have picked up this anecdotal idea that firefighters should do their job fast, maybe because they’ve heard anecdotally that fires left undoused tend to spread. Many press accounts adopted the same high-minded agnosticism about exactly what it takes to fight fires. City officials defending tests say “speed is critical” in combating blazes, reported the New York Times, in the best tradition of we-print-all-viewpoints journalism. “Opponents argue that it is not.”

9 Comments

  • Classic. As far as I know women get extra time in both military and police tests. I would have thought this would have ended after that serial rapist wrestled the gun away from his granny police excort, shot the judge and went on a murder spree WITH the police weapon but then again this PC insanity has not completely run its course as the US is still a major world power. When things start declining rapidly it will be easier to change things but by then it will be too late.

  • The Bar Exam goes too fast too. It should be enjoined until it accommodates the aged, the ADHD, the learning disabled. People with early dementia or poor memories should not only be granted more time, but also have it open book.

  • They should also offer the captain’s exam in braille, so as not to discriminate against the blind. It’s not like you can see with all the smoke, anyway.

  • There is a vicious little voice in the back of my head whispering its desire that such people die in fires because the PC peopl trying to put it out can’t work as fast as the non-PC people not hired…

    I try not to listen to it, but the logical part of my mind sees that as the fastest way to get rid of this utter BS.

    My morality tell me that, since people will most certainly die as a rsult of such policies, at least those people most responsible for the situation should be the ones to die.

    It’s hard to ignore motion, logic, AND morality – what else is there?

    Unfortunately, it somehow seems that the evil people and useful idiots that implement policies such as these are seldom the ones who pay the price.

  • The ability to make and execute the correct action when victims are in dire peril, passed from the requirements long before this sad report. The bad news is that some of the best qualified for life and death command have long been pushed aside by different victim groups. The good news is that the urban fire services are doing their best to put the weak proformers is support and administrative positions. We saddly ended up with 6 dead in a unsearched high-rise stairwell when the long time supervisor of a Dept medical clinic was promoted to a command position, and found himself senoir officer at a big fire. When questioned at a later public board of inquiry he responded, “I thought I was still in training”. We are all familiar with standard distribution, so imagine just how bad the low end fire officer really is? Please keep in mind that affirmitive action in all it’s variations subverts in combination with political corruption, the aldermans picks are every bit as worthless. The concept of, “institutional integrity for a reason”, passed from public service quite awhile back.

  • A last thought on the ADA and the fire service. What of chronic mental illness and fitness for duty/command. ADA proponents would argue that as long as one is monitored by a doctor everythings A-ok. Well, what of an officer whose psychotropic regimen has more colors than a box of Skittles. We are all aware that caring for the mentally ill is an inexact science. The result are just as you would expect, fine most of the time, and on occasion completely nuts. The dept is well aware of the “issue” having repeatedly relieved the person in a deranged state, and driven them home. They sleeps through alarms at night, we go without them, would you want to wake them? The families involved, mine and yours have a reasonable expectation that everyone responding to an emergency will be fit for hazardous duty. The dept demands full mentation, as it terminates for diminished mentation, the underlying premise for the zero tolerance of drugs and alcohol. You are correct to assume that this is rare but real, and that nobody in his right mind is ever going to open this can of worms. Can you imagine the poo-storm the zealots would rain down on your head? The layman often wonders where the line is in willful negligence, and marvels at how twisted it becomes accomodating good intensions. Just to let you lawyers have some fun, imagine for a moment that some fool decides to look into this, about 2 or 3 steps down the action list is, Call Legal

  • “Unfortunately, it somehow seems that the evil people and useful idiots that implement policies such as these are seldom the ones who pay the price.”

    Amen.

    Years ago, as a reporter, I toured a multi-million dollar newly-built firehouse in New Jersey. The captain chuckled as he pointed to the elevator, estimated to have cost almost a million. At first I didn’t get it. He nudged, “know any firemen in wheelchairs?”

    Today he probably realizes the joke’s not too far from reality.

  • And so we see that disparate-outcome discrimination suits eventually lead inexorably to all of society sharing the same lousy outcome.

  • If all of us who think there is no sense in trying to make losers or unfit people muscle into places where they have no businss, I propose this solution: let all the PC, ADA, &c people try to get into work that pays well. We should reserve serious, necessary work for people who can handle the job by payiing well nigh nothing for those jobs.