Officer Suffering From Effects of Stroke Properly Terminated
Officer Koessel had a stroke. About eight months later, he was cleared to return, full-time, sans overtime. He was assigned to desk duty, though he was allowed to make traffic stops while on his daily commute.
The arrangement didn't last long. His coworkers expressed concerns over his fitness for duty after a captain overheard him becoming flustered after being unable to remember a word during a traffic stop. His duties were then amended again, and he was only allowed to perform backup duties, not initiate stops.
After further reports of emotional issues and a shift cut short by blood pressure issues, he was placed on administrative leave and ordered to undergo medical evaluations.
The evaluations were mixed, but the final recommendation was that he be placed in a low-stress position, away from the general public.
For a short time, he worked as an assistant to the Emergency Management Coordinator. However, there were insufficient funds for the position and he was terminated via a letter, which informed him that no jobs for which he was medically cleared were available, and notified him of his right to request a hearing within five days. He declined to do so, and was terminated.
A prima facie ADA violation requires a showing that (1) the plaintiff was disabled per the ADA's definition, (2) he was able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without accommodation, and (3) he suffered discrimination because of the disability.
The second factor is obviously telling in this case. Repeated medical exams found him unfit for duty as an officer and no substitute positions were available. Koessel also didn't put forth any evidence to contradict the doctors' reports. And though he handled many ordinary day-to-day duties satisfactorily after returning from leave, that doesn't prove his fitness for stressful emergency situations.
Breach of Contract
The county called it "at-will." Koessel and the District Court called it an implied contract by statute. The Tenth Circuit held that, with or without a contract, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 18-3-611(b) applied - firing can only be for cause and after notice and opportunity for a hearing.
There is no evidence of bad faith. Instead, there is much evidence that Koessel was unable to perform his duties. Koessel has the burden of showing lack of cause.
Koessel received a letter notifying him of his impeding termination, but was that adequate notice? It stated that (1) the doctor had concluded that he was not fit for duty, (2) there were not substitute positions available, and (3) Koessel was being terminated for safety purposes. The state statute requires notification of the grounds for termination. The letter suffices for that purpose.
Right to a Hearing?
The letter informed him of his right to a hearing. He didn't follow through. He argues that he had no duty to, as the county had already breached the implied contract by firing him. However, as mentioned above, they fired him for cause. That means no breach.
- Koessel v. Sublette County Sheriff's Dept. (Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Summ. Judgment Affirmed in Ski Waiver, Adaptive Skier Case (FindLaw's Tenth Circuit Case)
- ADA Employment Discrimination: You Can't Sue Under Title II (FindLaw's Tenth Circuit Case)
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