EEOC Finds That FDNY Discriminates Against Veterans with PTSD in Hiring Process

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FDNY fire truck

FDNY Firetruck, by Andrew Dallos, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

New York, New York—June 19, 2019—The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued an important determination that the Fire Department of New York (“FDNY”) has unfairly discriminated against veterans with a history of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) in its firefighter hiring process.  Several members of the class are represented by Disability Rights Advocates.

One of those veterans is Joseph Leopold, who was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2005 and was a volunteer firefighter from 2005 to 2012.  He applied to be one of New York’s Bravest in 2011 and passed the FDNY’s rigorous and challenging physical and psychological tests.  Then, in April 2016, after a fifteen-minute interview with a FDNY psychiatrist, he was disqualified based only on his PTSD diagnosis.  The EEOC determined that this was discrimination, and that Leopold was not the only one treated unfairly due to a previous mental health diagnosis.

The EEOC concluded that the FDNY encouraged veterans with disabilities to apply to be firefighters, but then refused to hire about seventy percent of the candidates.  Many of these candidates had previous diagnoses of PTSD that were years old and the candidates had few, if any, symptoms anymore.  The EEOC found that many, perhaps all, of these candidates were likely qualified for the job, but that the FDNY did not even consider them because it relied on “outdated medical information and speculation” as to “possible . . . psychological weaknesses.”

“Veterans’ groups have known for a long time that the FDNY was doing this, and I’m glad the EEOC called this what it is – unfair, and illegal discrimination,” said Mr. Leopold.  “Plenty of active, successful FDNY firefighters have a PTSD diagnosis and do the job just fine.  It doesn’t make any sense to disqualify new firefighters for it.” Mr. Leopold’s EEOC determination can be found here.

“Everyone in the hiring process has the right to be treated and assessed on an individual basis, not disqualified on a blanket basis due to stereotypes,” said Michelle Caiola, Managing Director of Disability Rights Advocates’ New York City office.  “There is no scientific evidence backing the FDNY’s conclusions.”

“The FDNY recruits veterans, and deservedly so.  This ruling demonstrates that the FDNY cannot value military service but punish people for getting mental health care after that service,” said Maia Goodell, Supervising Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates (and herself a veteran of the Navy).

The EEOC will now try to resolve the case with the FDNY on behalf of a class of candidates who were disqualified because of a record of having PTSD.

More information about DRA’s lawsuits against the FDNY can be found here.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

Disability Rights Advocates is one of the leading nonprofit disability rights legal centers in the nation.  With offices in Berkeley, California and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights for people with all types of disabilities nationwide.  DRA’s work in New York City has resulted in making half of the City’s yellow taxi fleet accessible to wheelchair users, a federal court order requiring the City to make its voting sites accessible, and a victory at trial in a class-action lawsuit challenging New York City’s failure to plan for the needs of persons with disabilities in disasters such as Hurricane Sandy.  More information can be found at www.dralegal.org.

Contacts

Maia Goodell, Supervisory Attorney, (212) 644-8644; mgoodell@dralegal.org
Michelle Caiola, Managing Director, (212) 644-8644; mcaiola@dralegal.org