A federal court in Maryland dismissed a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by a police officer trainee who needed more than 17 minutes to run a mile and a half. LaPier v. Prince Georges County, No. 8:10-cv-02851 (2/7/13). Rejecting the officer’s requests for a permanent light duty assignment or modification of the police department’s fitness standards, the Court held that it was not unreasonable to require police officers to be able to run a mile and an half in less than 15 minutes.
The case arose after LaPier was hired by the Prince Georges County Police Department as a police officer trainee in 2008. In 2009, LaPier passed out during a training run, and was subsequently diagnosed with a blood disorder that caused decreased oxygen in his blood. Thereafter, LaPier was unable to meet the time cutoff for the running test, and he was discharged on the grounds that he was unfit for duty.
Although the Court found his blood condition to be a covered disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act, it also found he could not perform the essential functions of the police officer job, with or without reasonable accommodation. “Responding to emergencies and making forceful arrests are essential functions of a police officer,” wrote Judge Alexander Williams. Therefore, “as a measure of job fitness, employers may require applicants or cadets to complete training runs in a certain amount of time.”
There are two important take-aways for employers in this case. First, the Court reaffirmed that employers do not have an obligation to create permanent light duty positions as a reasonable accommodation. Second, the Court deferred to the employer’s assessment of what are the essential functions of the position. These are both important rules for employers to keep in mind when evaluating what actions must be taken to accommodate employees and applicants with disabilities.