The Rhode Island ACLU has settled a federal lawsuit on behalf of former state Senator Michael Damiani against the City of East Providence, which in 2007 conditioned his appointment as an Assistant Harbormaster on passing a “vigorous” physical exam. The lawsuit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Carolyn A. Mannis, had argued that the requirement violated Damiani’s rights under various employment anti-discrimination laws. Under the settlement agreement announced today, the City has agreed to pay Damiani $7,000 in damages, as well as $15,000 in attorney’s fees.
In April of 2007, Damiani, a former police officer who had retired due to cardiovascular problems, was recommended for the position of Assistant Harbormaster by the City’s Harbormaster. He met all the requirements for the position under state and city law and had completed all the training requirements for the post. At the time, there was no requirement that assistant harbormasters undergo a physical exam before appointment. However, a City Councilman and the City Manager persuaded the City Council to appoint Damiani only upon successful completion of an exam because they knew “he has a heart condition.” A month later, the City Council approved two other nominees for the position without this stipulation.
The lawsuit argued that the new “physical exam” requirement unlawfully subjected Damiani to discriminatory treatment because of his disability “and/or because Defendants regarded [him] as having a disability.” Before the suit was filed, the R.I. Commission for Human Rights had already issued a finding that there was “probable cause” to believe that Damiani’s rights had been violated under state anti-discrimination laws. Those laws limit the circumstances under which employers can demand physical examinations of job applicants, and further require that they be imposed uniformly on all applicants for a particular job category, not just of selected applicants.
ACLU attorney Mannis said today: “I am hopeful that this settlement will send a message to other public bodies and employers that discrimination against job applicants on the basis of their perceived disabilities is unacceptable.”