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City Moves to Settle on Fire Department Discrimination Case

During a City Council meeting last night, the city moved to settle on a discrimination case involving the Alexandria Fire Department reprimanding and disciplining a captain requesting medical leave to handle a disability.

Last December, EMS Captain Michael Cahill — who has worked for the Alexandria Fire Department since 1994 — filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that he faced discrimination and retaliation as a disabled person requesting medical leave.

The lawsuit said that Cahill’s disabilities include post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, both of which had a substantial impact on his activities. Cahill’s son also suffers a congenital heart condition. As a result of both his disabilities and his son’s, Cahill said his use of sick leave began to increase around January 2018, before which he said it was rarely used.

By July, Cahill said he received a disciplinary memorandum accusing him of an excessive level of unscheduled sick leave and ordering him to produce doctors’ notes “each time [he] utilize[d] sick leave of any type.” Cahill said during this time, he had a positive/high leave balance and had never taken more than one day of sick leave in a row.

Cahill said in the suit that he had a balance of 800 hours of sick leave and had only taken 511 hours, while still working 1,888 hours.

Throughout late 2018, Cahill listed instances of paperwork he submitted to his commander to be filed with Human Resources that never arrived at that office, and said no action was taken on leave requests because the reasons were listed as “too vague.”

When Cahill challenged disciplinary action taken against him, the suit says the hearing officer ruled in Cahill’s favor and ordered that Cahill’s leave be restored, but the lawsuit says the AFD never restored those hours.

“Mr. Cahill submitted his medical leave paperwork on August 6, 2018, yet he was forced to wait an entire six months before his medical leave was finally approved on January 15, 2019,” the lawsuit said. “AFD’s actions in this regard were unlawful, especially in light of the fact that AFD failed to engage in any timely interactive process.”

In another scenario, Cahill says he requested four hours of leave to take his son to a cardiology appointment but later canceled the leave when AFD could not find a replacement. But while Cahill worked those hours after AFD canceled the leave, the lawsuit says Cahill was never paid for that work despite proof that he was on duty from two incident reports.

“Mr. Cahill considers AFD’s unwillingness to pay him for the hours he worked after canceling the leave as retaliatory,” the lawsuit said.

The City Council entered into a closed session at the beginning of yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) meeting and emerged unanimously agreed to direct the City Attorney to enter into settlement agreements for the lawsuit.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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