FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Karen I. Ward, Senior Counsel
Equip for Equality (312) 895-7330
Barry C. Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director
Equip for Equality
TTY (800) 610-2779
Equip for Equality Files Suit Against the City of Aurora for Discriminatory Discharge of Firefighter with Diabetes
CHICAGO (November 7, 2003) - Equip for Equality today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a City of Aurora firefighter who was terminated from his job because of unfounded fears about his insulin-treated diabetes.
David Mark Wozniak, a firefighter with the City of Aurora, was initially hired in 1978, and was diagnosed with diabetes in 1982. In 1987, the Department imposed new restrictions on monitoring of blood sugar and Wozniak was forced to go on disability leave. In 1995, he was returned to work. From 1995 to 2002, the Department imposed unnecessary restrictions on Wozniak's monitoring activities, discouraged him from monitoring his blood sugar as often as was appropriate, and permitted other employees to harass him.
In February of 2002, the Fire Department fired Wozniak,citing a single incident, in which Wozniak had experienced hypoglycemia, as evidence that he was a safety risk. On that occasion, Wozniak had immediately and independently taken action (eating) to raise his blood sugar level, and no one, including Wozniak, was harmed or at risk of harm. Nevertheless, The City seized upon this incident to conclude that Plaintiff was in a "category" that prevented him from serving as a firefighter.
"The Aurora Fire Department's policy is clearly discriminatory," says Karen I. Ward, Equip for Equality's Senior Counsel and one of Wozniak's attorneys. "Our client can perform the essential functions of a firefighter with reasonable accommodations. Not only did the Department fail to cooperate in providing reasonable accommodations to Wozniak, it imposed upon him an across-the-board policy to deny him continued employment, rather than making an individualized assessment as the law requires."
In the Complaint filed today by Equip for Equality, Wozniak claims that the actions of the Aurora City Fire Department discriminated against him due to his disability in violation of the federal Rehabilitaton Act. He seeks a return to duty, back pay and damages.
"A fundamental principle of federal disability law is that persons with disabilities are to be treated as individuals," says Barry Taylor, Equip for Equality's Legal Advocacy Director. "In this case, the City of Aurora ignored that principle, opting instead to act upon broad stereotypes and unfounded assumptions about persons with diabetes."
The case was filed in the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, and has been assigned to the Honorable Judge Elaine Bucklo.
"I am grateful that Equip for Equality has agreed to bring my case to the attention of the federal court," says Wozniak. "I want to go back to work for the City of Aurora taxpayers, doing the job that I know and love, and that I am fully capable of performing. I also want to put an end to this unfair and discriminatory policy."
Reference: David Mark Wozniak v. City of Aurora, IL, No. 03C-7928 (U.S. District Court N.D. Ill)
For more information contact Karen Ward at 312/895/7330, Barry Taylor at 312/341-0022 or TTY 800/610-2779.