Sorry to dabble in Curt Varone’s domain (read Curt’s take on this) but I found this to be a very interesting legal drama. It involves a Houston Fire Department captain who was diagnosed with a form of amnesia that kept him from entering burning buildings on at least two occasions going back ten years. A jury initially found that HFD, in transferring Shayn Proler out of suppression because of the incidents, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Earlier this month, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that just because Proler can’t do the job doesn’t necessarily mean he’s disabled.
In 2004, he failed to enter a residential property that was on fire.
Two years later, Proler once again failed to enter a home that was on fire after he had trouble donning his fire suppression gear, taking orders and walking.
Following that incident, he was diagnosed as having experienced global transient amnesia — a sudden temporary episode of memory loss — which stemmed from a fear of fire.
Because he froze at two fires, Proler was transferred to the training academy. He wasn’t happy about it and appealed the decision. Eventually, he sued under the ADA, saying the fire department regarded him as disabled and wrongly demoted him.
The result? A jury agreed with Proler and granted him $362,000. But the fire department appealed.
This month, the Texas Supreme Court reversed the jury decision and tossed out the award. It said Proler didn’t show he was “disabled” under the ADA, noting that an employee lacking the “mental, physical or experiential skill set” required to perform a job isn’t necessarily disabled.
To illustrate this point, the Court made the timely analogy that lacking the requisite basketball skills to play for the San Antonio Spurs does not mean a person is disabled. The Court then dismantled Proler’s claim that the City regarded him as having a disability, reasoning that: (1) fighting fires is not a “major life activity”; and (2) “reluctance to charge into a burning building is not a mental impairment at all; it is the normal human response.” In other words, the City had not regarded Proler as disabled; rather, it had perceived him as unable to perform his specific job requirements as captain of a fire suppression crew.