By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
9:57 PM EDT, May 9, 2013
Baltimore County said Thursday it has settled three disability lawsuits filed by former firefighters and a police officer who alleged they were illegally forced out of their jobs.
County Attorney Mike Field said the agreements would allow the firefighters to return to work with light-duty assignments. The police officer will receive modified retirement benefits. They will get $20,000 each in damages, as well as a total of more than $47,000 in attorney's fees, Field said.
"These settlements honor these 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," Field wrote in a statement posted to the county's blog.
But Towson attorney Kathleen Cahill, who represents the men, said the settlements are not signed or finalized yet, and that the county's description of a proposed settlement is not accurate.
"That is spin, and we are happy to convey to the press the full and accurate description of the settlement details, once it's completed," Cahill said of Field's statement.
Last year, former firefighters Donald Becker and Stanley Kuklinski and former police Lt. Michael Lauenstein sued the county in federal court, alleging it had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. They claimed the county subjected them to unnecessary medical exams and forced them out of their jobs without evidence that they couldn't perform their duties.
In the statement posted online, Field said the settlements were not an admission of liability. The county "was confident that it would prevail in all three cases because the county believed that, at the time of their retirements, all three were incapable of performing the 'essential functions' of their jobs."
"However, the county has recently implemented an expanded light duty policy and the administration decided that it might be able to settle two of the cases by inviting the plaintiffs to return to county service in a light duty capacity," he wrote.
The policy went into effect in January. In an email to county workers at the time, human resources director George Gay said it would provide "greater accommodations for employees who are sick or injured but still capable of performing valuable work for the county's taxpayers."
Becker, Kuklinski and Lauenstein filed their lawsuits weeks after the county had agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice over workplace discrimination issues. The federal government alleged the county had discriminated against 10 employees and job candidates in the police and fire departments, mostly based on medical conditions.
Also last year, a judge ordered the county to pay more $500,000 in attorney's fees and court costs in the case of Detective William Blake, who also was represented by Cahill. In 2010, Blake had won $250,000 in damages from the county after a lawsuit alleging ADA violations.
Baltimore Sun reporter Arthur Hirsch contributed to this article.
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