County agrees to settle federal lawsuit
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 12:08

County accused of disability discrimination

by Nicole Rodman

    Baltimore County has reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to pay $475,000 and reform employment practices that the goverment alleged were discriminatory.

In a complaint filed on Aug. 7 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the Justice Department filed a complaint alleging that Baltimore County “violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring employees to submit to medical examinations and disability-related inquiries without a proper reason, and by excluding applicants from emergency medical technician (EMT) positions because of their diabetes.”
    In the complaint, 10 current and former Baltimore County police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and other civilian employees alleged that they were “required to undergo medical examinations or respond to medical inquiries that were unrelated to their ability to perform the functions of their jobs.”
    As detailed in the Justice Department complaint, many county employees agreed to undergo improper medical examinations out of fear of losing their jobs.
    Additionally, two qualified emergency medical technician candidates were allegedly not hired because of their diabetes.
    “The result of the county’s discriminatory policies and practices was to force employees, including veteran police officers and firefighters, to submit to invasive and unjustified medical examinations and inquiries,” Justice Department attorney Thomas E. Perez noted in a statement on Aug. 7, adding, “The ADA does not tolerate this type of conduct and neither does the Justice Department.”
    Perez is the head of the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
    Rather than go to trial, Baltimore County agreed to a consent decree in which they will pay $475,000 to the ten complaintants.
    Additionally, the county agreed to improve workplace practices by revising their policies on medical examinations and disability leave and not discriminating against prospective employees who have diabetes.
    The county will also provide training on the ADA to all employees making personnel decisions.
    All of these changes will take place within the next three years under supervision of the Department of Justice.
    For its part, Baltimore County continues to deny wrongdoing in the matter, noting that the county decided to settle, rather than fight the lawsuit, in order to save taxpayer money.
    “The desire to protect taxpayer dollars was a key factor in the County’s willingness to reach an agreement with DOJ,” county attorney Mike Field said in a statement on Aug. 7.
    In the settlement, the county does not admit to wrongdoing, with the consent decree stating, “The fact that the County has entered into this Consent Decree should in no way be considered as evidence of guilt or liability that it has violated the law in any way.”
    To prove that they are working to comply with the terms of the consent decree, the county will be required to submit a report to the Justice Department every six months for the next three years.