Appeals Court Revives Disabled EMT Suit

May 31, 2002 ( - A federal appeals court has breathed new life into a legal battle by a former New Jersey emergency medical technician who claimed he was blocked from transferring to a police dispatcher post after a back injury.

The 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit by Howard Shapiro after ruling that federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit disabled workers from being forced to use normal job posting procedures to move to a job they can perform, according to a Legal Intelligencer report.

Shapiro claimed Lakewood Township officials violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by forcing him to apply for open positions as they were posted on a town bulletin board when his back injury kept him from continuing as a medical technician. Court papers said Shapiro, a 15-year township employee, suffered a herniated disk while lifting an elderly patient in July 1997.

Appeals judges ruled that US District Judge Mary Little Cooper mistakenly threw out Shapiro’s lawsuit because he hadn’t followed normal job procedures.  

Case Background

According to court papers, Shapiro was placed on “restrictive duty” with restrictions that he could not crawl, crouch, squat, or lift more than 25 pounds. He never resumed normal responsibilities.

After becoming disabled, Shapiro and his lawyers requested that the township allow him to move into another job. He claims the township hired five police dispatchers during the time he was requesting “an accommodation” to move to a dispatcher slot.

For its part, the township stuck to its guns about its normal job transfer requirements. Lakewood claimed that because Shapiro failed to follow its procedure, it was not required to transfer him to the position of police dispatcher or any other position.

Lakewood’s lawyers argued that accommodating Shapiro by means of a transfer would have required it to violate its policy of requiring interested employees specifically to request and interview for job transfers.

 The case is Shapiro v. Township of Lakewood.