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Baltimore County settles three ADA cases

Two firefighters and a former police lieutenant have tentatively settled their $6.9 million lawsuit alleging that Baltimore County forced them from their county jobs in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, County Attorney Michael E. Field said in a statement last week.

Donald K. Becker Sr., Stanley P. Kuklinski and Michael D. Lauenstein claimed in separate lawsuits that the county required them to have medical tests that were not job related and forced to take disability retirement after the examinations.

Under terms of the tentative settlement, each of the three men will receive $20,000. In addition, Becker and Kuklinski will be offered light duty assignments with the fire department. The former police lieutenant, Lauenstein, will see an increase in his retirement benefits, Field said.

The county, which admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlements, will also pay $47,377.50 in attorney’s fees, Field said.

“These settlements honor those employees for their past service while also ensuring that firefighters and police officers who serve the residents of Baltimore County are working in jobs that match their physical abilities for the safety of all,” he said. “Residents of Baltimore County demand no less than this.”

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Kathleen M. Cahill of The Law Offices of Kathleen M. Cahill in Towson, said she would not comment because the settlements have not yet been “consummated” in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, where the cases were filed last September.

The filing of the lawsuits followed the county’s $475,000 settlement in August with 10 current, former and prospective employees to resolve federal claims it had engaged in a “pattern or practice” of discriminating against police officers, firefighters and paramedics with disabilities by requiring medical tests that were not job-related. The county, which admitted no wrongdoing, agreed to stop requiring physical fitness and medical tests of its employees except when “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

That agreement, a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department, did not foreclose additional ADA lawsuits against the county.

According to their complaints, Becker and Kuklinski were forced into retirement after being labeled “not fit for duty” despite being able to perform their jobs’ essential functions.

In August 2008, Becker underwent elective shoulder replacement surgery to relieve pain from an old injury and subsequently received a clean bill of health from his orthopedic surgeon, the plaintiff alleged.

But upon returning to work that December, Becker was ordered to have a fitness evaluation and release all medical information to the county.

One county doctor concluded in December 2008 that Becker risked needing “another joint replacement down the road,” and another, in April 2009, went well beyond the shoulder surgery and probed into other health matters, including Becker’s psoriasis, he alleged.

On April 7, 2009, Becker took and passed a physical exam designed for emergency responders.

But the county forced Becker to take “disability retirement” on June 9, 2009, he said.

Kuklinski had heart surgery on June 27, 2007, and was cleared by his cardiologist to return to work, without restrictions, on Sept. 27, 2007, he alleged.

But the county ordered him to have a medical examination and release all his medical records. The county’s doctor concluded on Oct. 15, 2007, that he could not properly evaluate Kuklinski without a stress test, which he subsequently passed two months later, he alleged.

However, the county’s doctor deemed him unfit for duty in April 2008.

The county forced Kuklinski to take disability retirement on Oct. 14, 2008, according to his complaint.

Lauenstein claims he was ordered to have a medical test and release all his medical records in 2006 after a fellow officer said the lieutenant had suffered a seizure about 10 years earlier.

The county’s doctor found Lauenstein unfit for duty on Oct. 7, 2006, due to a 20 percent to 50 percent chance of having a seizure on the job in the foreseeable future.

The county told Lauenstein he would have to take retirement effective Nov. 13, 2006, due to his diagnosed potential for another seizure, even though he had not had one in at least 10 years and had received only glowing performance reports, according to his complaint.

The county denied the allegations.

The settlement order, dated May 8, provides that either party can move to reopen the action with 30 days “for good cause” if the settlement is not consummated. If no such motion is made, the case will be dismissed with prejudice and cannot be refiled.

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DONALD K. BECKER SR. V. BALTIMORE COUNTY;

STANLEY P. KUKLINSKI V. BALTIMORE COUNTY;

MICHAEL D. LAUENSTEIN V. BALTIMORE COUNTY

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case Nos.:

1:12-cv-02646-CCB (Becker)

1:12-cv-02645-CCB (Kuklinski)

1:12-cv-02647-CCB (Lauenstein)

Judge:

Catherine C. Blake

Outcome:

Settlement; payment of $20,000 plus injunctive relief and attorneys fees totaling $47,377.50

Dates:

Event: June 9, 2009 (Becker); Oct. 14, 2008 (Kuklinski); Nov. 13, 2006 (Lauenstein)

Suit filed: Sept. 5, 2012

Settlement Order: May 8, 2013

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys:

Kathleen M. Cahill of the Law Offices of Kathleen M. Cahill in Towson and Benjamin Rosenberg of Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP in Baltimore

Defendant’s’ Attorneys:

Paul McLane Mayhew, James J. Nolan Jr. and James S. Ruckle Jr. of the Baltimore County Office of Law in Towson.

Counts:

Violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.