Weeks after Baltimore County agreed pay about $500,000 to settle a workplace discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, a former county police lieutenant and two former firefighters have filed federal lawsuits claiming that they were illegally forced off their jobs.
Each of the suits filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore demands $2.3 million in damages and compensation for violations of rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bars workplace and hiring discrimination based on medical conditions. These cases were among the 13 pursued by the Justice Department in their suit settled in early August, but the county did not offer these three men compensation sufficient to dissuade them from suing on their own, said their lawyer, Kathleen Cahill.
"The county would not offer adequate compensation for damages for these folks to choose settlement over litigation," said Cahill, who practices in Towson. In these three cases, she said, "the economic losses are the most extreme because they lost their careers."
She said former police lieutenant Michael D. Lauenstein, 56, and former firefighters Stanley P. Kuklinski, 53, and Donald K. Becker Sr., 53, were "falsely labeled as damaged goods," making it impossible for them to find work in public safety. Lauenstein, Kuklinski and Becker retired in 2007, 2008 and 2009, respectively.
"It's common knowledge if you are forced out of a job as unfit for duty, the door is closed," said Cahill, who represented all 13 people whose cases were taken up by the Justice Department. Cahill also represented Baltimore County police Detective William Blake, who won a $225,000 judgment against the county in 2010 after a federal jury trial. Blake claimed that the Police Department violated the ADA by ordering him to undergo a medical examination in retaliation for testifying on behalf of another officer before a county appeals board.
Baltimore County spokesman Don Mohler did not respond to a request for comment.
The three plaintiffs, with a total of 84 years of county service among them, tell similar stories in their complaints filed with the court. Each man claims that he was subjected to unnecessary medical examinations, forced to disclose irrelevant personal information, and forced off the job for medical reasons despite a lack of evidence that he was not fit to do the work.
Kuklinski, for instance, who served 25 years with the Fire Department, had heart bypass surgery in June 2007. Three months later, the suit says, he "was released by his cardiologist to return to work, full-duty, with no restrictions."
Although the department's health care provider, Concentra, also released him to return to work without restrictions, the suit says, the department ordered Kuklinski to see the physician who often performed occupational exams for the county. The doctor ordered a stress test, which Kuklinski passed, and later reported to the county that Kuklinski was not fit for duty, the suit says.
Michael Day, president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association, said he could not comment on these individual cases, but said, "Often, it comes down to the level of risk the county would be willing to accept."