UPDATE (2:18 p.m.)—Baltimore County will pay more than $500,000 in compensatory damages to nine county employees who alleged the county subjected them to illegal medical reviews and a 10th who advised the county that such exams might be illegal, according to a federal consent decree made public today.
The medical reviews of the employees—ordered by the county—included fitness-for-duty and pre-hiring screenings that were then used to fire or force the retirement of some employees or exclude prospective employees from being hired. The consent decree alleges that the county used those tests, dating back to 2006, to engage in a "pattern and practice of discrimination."
“The result of the county’s discriminatory policies and practices was to force employees, including veteran police officers and firefighters, to submit to invasive and unjustified medical examinations and inquiries,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in a statement released Tuesday. “The ADA does not tolerate this type of conduct and neither does the Justice Department.”
The damages are part of a consent decree entered into by the county and the U.S. Department of Justice Monday. The order also includes back retirement benefits for the family of one retired county firefighter who later died from cancer that was related to his job and another prospective firefighter who will now be admited to the training academy and receive back pay.
All ten clients were represented by Kathleen Cahill, a Towson-based labor attorney.
"Rather than honor their service and sacrifice, the county turned on workers with medical conditions or illness or injuries or disabilities," Cahill said in a statement released Tuesday. "That’s just wrong and it’s illegal – and it did not save money nor did it make us safer, as the County claimed. So today, justice and the right to work prevail.”
As part of the settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the county did not acknowledge that it acted illegally but agreed to settle the cases.
Don Mohler, a county spokesman, referred a reporter to a statement posted on the county website by County Attorny Michael Field.
"The fact that the County has entered into this Consent Decree should in no way be considered as evidence of guilt or liability that it has violated the law in any way," Field wrote, adding that the county settled to prevent a larger expense to county taxpayers.
"In this age of multi-million dollar judgments and soaring attorney's fees, the County must consider the potential cost to taxpayers of litigating against the federal government—an ordeal that would have been lengthy and costly, even if the County ultimately prevailed," Field wrote. "So with County taxpayers in mind, Baltimore County agreed to resolve 10 of the 13 cases at a cost of approximately $475,000, with an additional $30,000 in attorneys’ fees, which was the cost of compromise necessary to settle the case and fully resolve these 10 claims."
As part of the agreement, The county agrees to:
- Not discriminate against any current or prospective employee.
- Not require employees to submit to medical exams that are not required for all applicants hired for the same position.
- Train its current supervisors in the Americans with Disabilities and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Acts within 120 days of the judge’s order.
- Update all its policies for fitness-for-duty medical examinations.
- Not automatically exclude applicants who have diabetes mellitus.
The county also agrees to stop using the physician common to all the cases.
The agreement requires the county to submit reports on its efforts every six months for the next three years. Failure to abide by the agreement could result in additional penalties including a contempt of court ruling.
"These hard-working, dedicated people have finally been provided some compensation for the illegal treatment they endured,". Cahill said in her statement. "They are relieved to have reached that finish line and now just want to do their jobs undeterred."
Three other employees—two firefighters and a police officer—who lost their jobs were not included in the settlement. Cahill said those clients will file suit against the county. She hinted there could be additional lawsuits.
“There are many more employees, former employees, and qualified applicants, impacted by this scheme, and many related cases yet to be resolved," Cahill said in her statement. "While some jobs have been saved, numerous jobs have been lost. With our pursuit of justice in full in the courts for these remaining workers, coupled with the Department of Justice enforcement, Baltimore County government should finally get the message to comply with the ADA and let these people get to work."
Field, in his statement, said the remaining three employees "made settlement demands that the County believed were unreasonable based upon the facts of those cases.
"Should any of those complainants choose to file suit, the County law office will vigorously defend those cases on the merits, and it is not anticipated that outside attorneys will be hired to assist in those cases," Field wrote. "As part of this agreement, DOJ agrees not to participate in the other three cases should those cases move forward."
Stay with Patch as more details develop.