The Rhode Island ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit against the City of East Providence on behalf of former state Senator Michael Damiani, whom the City Council last year conditioned his appointment as an Assistant Harbormaster on his passing a “vigorous” physical exam. The lawsuit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Carolyn A. Mannis, argues that the requirement violated Damiani’s rights under various employment anti-discrimination laws.

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, Councilman Robert Cusack persuaded the City Council that Damiani should be appointed only upon successful completion of such an exam because “we know he has a heart condition.” The lawsuit claims that a month later, the City Council approved two other nominees for the position without this stipulation.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that, despite Damiani’s “completion of all prerequisites for employment and unanimous approval of the City Council, the Defendants unlawfully subjected [Damiani] to discriminatory treatment because of [his] disability and/or because Defendants regarded [him] as having a disability.” The suit claims that this discriminatory treatment violated Damiani’s rights under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the state Fair Employment Practices Act. Earlier this year, the R.I. Commission for Human Rights had issued a finding that there was “probable cause” to believe his rights had been violated under state law.

The lawsuit seeks a court order declaring the city’s actions unlawful, allowing Damiani to assume the post, and awarding monetary damages and attorneys’ fees. ACLU attorney Mannis said today: “By unilaterally imposing an unnecessary physical requirement on Mr. Damiani, East Providence officials improperly discriminated against him on the basis of a perceived disability. This is precisely the sort of activity that anti-discrimination laws were designed to prevent.”