Baltimore County settles disability lawsuits
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 12:53

Workers claimed they were forced into retirement

by Nicole Rodman

    Baltimore County attorney Michael E. Field announced last Thursday that the county has settled three lawsuits filed by former employees who alleged that they were illegally forced into retirement.
    The suits, filed last September by two former firefighters and a former police officer, claimed that  each of the men was subjected to non-job related medical testing and illegally dismissed from duty.
    Alleging that the county violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), each of the men filed federal lawsuits seeking $2.3 million in damages plus attorney’s fees.

    As Field explained, under last week’s settlement, the former firefighters were offered their jobs back in a “light duty capacity” and the former police officer was offered modifications to his retirement benefits.
    The men also received $20,000 each in damages plus a total of $47,377.50 for attorney’s fees.
    While the county did not admit fault in the settlement, it did agree to a new policy of expanded light-duty service.
    “The new policy provides greater accommodations for employees who are sick or injured but still capable of performing valuable work for the county’s taxpayers,” Field wrote on the county website.
    However, Kathleen Cahill, attorney for the three plaintiffs, responded to Field’s statement by arguing that the settlements are not yet finalized.
    “That is spin, and we are happy to convey to the press the full and accurate description of the settlement details, once it’s completed,” Cahill told the Baltimore Sun last Thursday.
    Cahill’s clients, former police officer Lt. Michael Lauenstein and former firefighters Stanley Kuklinski and Donald Becker, each filed suit after being dismissed following what they claimed in court documents were “illegal medical inquiries.”
    For Lauenstein, he said that he was ordered to undergo a medical examination in September 2006 for what the county claimed was a seizure disorder.
    While Lauenstein had suffered from one seizure in 2004, he had been cleared to return to work and had no other seizures.
    Though  Lauenstein denied having a seizure disorder, he submitted to examination by county physician Dr. Peter Oroszlan.
    Oroszlan eventually deemed Lauenstein not fit for duty, effectively ending his 30-year career.
    Kuklinski also claimed in court documents that he was forced into retirement following an “illegal” medical examination.
    A 25-year veteran of the department, Kuklinski was nearly killed while fighting a five-alarm fire at Dundalk’s Shiller’s Furniture and Appliance Store in 1984.
    Three Dundalk firefighters died in the blaze.
    In June 2007, Kuklinski underwent heart surgery. By that September, he was cleared by his cardiologist to return to work.
    However, Kuklinski claimed he was forced to submit to examination by Oroszlan, who ordered him to undergo a stress test.
    Despite passing the test, Kuklinski was eventually deemed unfit for duty.
    Becker, a 28-year veteran firefighter, had shoulder replacement surgery in August 2008, after which he was cleared for work by his orthopedic surgeon.
    Three months later, he was ordered to undergo a medical evaluation by a county orthopedist, who also found him fit for duty.
    Despite these findings, Becker was forced into retirement.
    Becker claimed that after challenging this finding he was sent to Oroszlan, who, though he reportedly could find nothing wrong with Becker’s shoulder, declared him unfit for duty.
    Though Becker later took, and passed, a rigorous county examination to prove his fitness, he was nonetheless dismissed.
    As a result of what they claimed were violations of the ADA, the three men filed lawsuits in September 2012.
    The suits came less than a month after the county settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.
    In that suit, spurred by complaints by 10 former county employees, the Justice Department alleged 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.”
    Oroszlan was found to have been involved in examinations of all 10 complainants in the suit.
    As a result of the settlement, the county admitted no liability but agreed to pay $475,000 to the complaintants.
    The county also agreed to modify workplace practices by revising policies on medical examinations and not discriminating against potential employees with diabetes.
    As part of the settlement, the county was also  forbidden from using the services of Oroszlan.
    These two settlements followed the county’s loss in a 2010 federal lawsuit brought by former police detective William Blake, who claimed he was forced to undergo an unnecessary examination a decade after he suffered a seizure.
    In that case, Blake was initially awarded $244,000  in damages and attorney’s fees.
    That amount was increased to $500,000 in damages and fees after the county lost a 2012 appeal of the case.