An experienced Minnesota firefighter applied repeatedly for promotion to fire district chief but was rejected—in favor of candidates who had scored lower than he on a promotional exam. He complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and later in court that the department chief was biased against him because of a knee injury.
What happened. "Scott" had served for 17 years in the St. Paul fire department when he first applied for the promotion, and he'd scored second on the exam out of 21 candidates. However, he'd undergone knee reconstructive surgery in 2006. Immediately after the operation, he'd been assigned light duty, and he later complained that the department had never agreed to return him to full-time duty after that, despite clearance from his doctor.
He took part-time assignments as fire inspector and arson investigator. Then Scott took the physical exam for the promotion and was cleared. But the department chief chose the third-, fourth-, and fifth-ranking candidates for promotion in February 2008. Two further spots opened later that year and the next year, but Scott was rejected for those, too.
He finally gave up and retired on disability in December 2009. Then he sued. A judge in federal district court ruled entirely for the city, and Scott appealed to the 8th Circuit, which covers Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
What the court said. A panel of three judges faced two important issues in this case. The first was whether, in the period before the January 2009 enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), Scott's knee surgery amounted to a protected disability. Before the ADAAA, it needed to restrict him in a major life activity, that of working in a broad class of jobs. Two of the three judges decided that Scott was not protected under the ADA, especially since he had been working at two other fire-related duties.
The other issue was whether the department chief chose other candidates because they were better qualified or because he believed Scott could no longer do the job. One judge believed the chief was biased, and he found plenty of evidence to prove it. But he was outvoted by the other two, who ruled in favor of the city. St. Martin v. City of St. Paul, U.S Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, No. 11-1716 (2012).
Point to remember: We believe that if the ADAAA criteria had applied to this case, Scott might have won a favorable ruling. The dissenting judge was convinced that the department chief believed Scott could no longer function as a firefighter because of his knee injury and surgery and rejected his promotion for that reason.