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Leadership/Management

Legal Lesson of the Month: Disabled Cadet Dismissed After Test Failures

EMS can be full of interesting and tricky legal scenarios. While you can’t have an attorney ride with you, it behooves providers to have at least some familiarity with the principles, precedents, and major issues of EMS law. To that end EMS World is pleased to offer the EMS Legal Lesson of the Month.

These cases are presented by prominent attorneys in the EMS field. This month’s comes from Larry Bennett, program chair for fire science and emergency management at the University of Cincinnati. Bennett’s department publishes a monthly Fire & EMS and Safety Law newsletter; subscribe to that by e-mailing Lawrence.bennett@uc.edu or read the latest edition here. Find this case and more in his section on EMS cases

Case: Chase Frost v. City of Philadelphia

Decided: January 2021

Verdict: The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals held a U.S. District Court judge properly granted summary judgment for the city in its decision to terminate EMS cadet Frost.

Facts: While working as a volunteer firefighter in 2007, Frost was involved in a rescue that resulted in burns to over 60% of his body and the loss of his left arm and lower right leg. He uses various prosthetics, swapping them out in response to different tasks.

After the accident Frost became a certified paramedic and applied to be a fire service paramedic for the city of Philadelphia. All Philadelphia fire service paramedics must graduate from the fire academy paramedic program. To participate in the fire academy, paramedic candidates must successfully complete a medical examination.

Prior to the start of the 2015 fire academy, Frost’s personal physicians opined he could safely perform all the exercises required by the program. However, the city’s doctor, who was responsible for providing medical clearance, was not satisfied with the personal doctor’s opinions. Consequently he asked a physical therapist to test Frost’s ability to perform four additional exercises.

By the start of the 2015 fire academy, the physical therapist had not yet evaluated Frost, and the city’s doctor neither approved nor denied Frost’s application. Without medical clearance, Frost could not participate in the 2015 fire academy. The physical therapist ultimately failed to conduct the four exercises requested by the city’s doctor. However, the therapist evaluated Frost and endorsed his ability to safely participate in the fire academy. After receiving the therapist’s report, the city’s doctor medically cleared Frost and approved his participation in the 2016 cadet class. On September 12, 2016, Frost started the program.

As part of the fire academy, cadets are tested on patient care protocols. The fire academy’s code of conduct states that in order to graduate, cadets must pass every protocol quiz with a minimum score of 80%. If a cadet fails a protocol quiz, the fire academy’s retest policy permits one retest. Frost received a failing grade of 70% on his first protocol quiz. As a result, Frost and the other cadets who failed received mediation, at which instructors met with them and reviewed their answers. The city also offered Frost and the other cadets additional tutoring before the following day’s retest. Frost did not attend the extra tutoring session.

On September 22, Frost retook the protocol quiz and again received a score of 70%. That same day the city terminated his employment and dismissed him from the fire academy, citing its retest policy.

Frost sued, contending the city failed to hire him on account of his disability when it did not permit him to enter the 2015 fire academy. The District Court held Frost could not establish the second prong of a prima facie case because he was not qualified for the job at that time. Frost also alleged he was terminated from the 2016 fire academy because of his disability. The District Court held that Frost failed to establish that the city’s nondiscriminatory reason for his termination, because of his failed retest, was pretextual.

Key quote: “Frost alleges he was terminated from the 2016 fire academy because of his disability. The District Court held that…he failed to establish that the city’s nondiscriminatory reason for his termination, because of his failed retest, was pretextual. We agree Frost cannot show pretext… All other cadets who failed retests were also terminated.”

Legal lesson: It is unfortunate this disabled cadet failed the patient protocol exam, but this is an essential job requirement.

 

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