Federal judge dismisses firefighter's bias lawsuit

April 22, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A federal court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Howard County firefighter who claimed he was discriminated against when he was fired from the county's training academy because of his asthma.

U.S. District Court Judge Frank Kaufman granted the county's request to dismiss the discrimination claims filed by John Huber of Woodlawn in a ruling received by county officials on Wednesday.

Judge Kaufman issued a summary judgment, meaning that he reviewed the facts of the case and the arguments from both parties and reached a ruling without having a hearing or trial.

Mr. Huber, 25, was dismissed in March 1990, one month after he enrolled in the county's training academy. Officials cited his poor performance in physical fitness exercises as the reason for the dismissal.

County lawyers argued that Mr. Huber posed too much of a risk to himself and other firefighters because of his asthma, a chronic disorder of labored breathing that he has had since childhood.

But the attorney for Mr. Huber argued that there is no reason that he can't be a career firefighter because he's been doing the job for eight years as a volunteer at the West Friendship Fire Department.

"[Mr.] Huber's enthusiasm, sincerity and commendable desire to serve his community, as well as the competent work he has done as a volunteer firefighter, all deserve to be noted and taken into account," Judge Kaufman said in his 17-page ruling.

But Judge Kaufman noted that federal discrimination laws do not require Howard officials to accommodate Mr. Huber when his condition may put himself or others at risk.

Richard Basehoar, an assistant county solicitor, said Howard officials are pleased by the ruling.

But F. J. Collins, a Baltimore attorney for Mr. Huber, criticized the ruling. He said Judge Kaufman should have permitted the case to go to trial, which was set for July.

"There's no question a jury would have ruled our way," Mr. Collins said.

"The judge, in essence, ignored eight years of experience that shows the man could do the job," he said.

Mr. Collins said Judge Kaufman incorrectly stated in the ruling that Howard County's volunteers and career firefighters have different types of jobs.

The judge, however, noted that county officials argued that volunteers are not required to respond to service calls, while career firefighters do not have such discretion.

Mr. Collins said Mr. Huber may appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. But the attorney noted that his client may not be able to afford the appeal, which must be filed in 30 days.

In the lawsuit, filed in February 1993, Mr. Huber sought back pay and at least $50,000 in damages. He also wants to be reinstated to the county's training academy.

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