November 1996

Workplace Labor Update - Permanent Light Duty Not Required – November 1996

2 min

Under disability discrimination laws, can an employer be forced to permanently assign a disabled employee to a light duty position? This question was addressed by the appellate court with jurisdiction over Maryland in the recent decision of Champ v. Baltimore County, 91 F.3d 129 (4th Cir. 1996).

In 1976, four years after James Champ began working as a Baltimore County police officer, he was injured in an offduty accident and disabled his upper left arm. In accordance with a County policy placing disabled officers on light duty for a period of 251 days, the department transferred Champ to a desk job. Despite the County policy, Champ remained in this position for some sixteen years.

In 1992, budgetary constraints forced the County to remove those officers who had remained on light duty assignments for more than 251 days, and Champ was involuntarily placed on disability retirement. In response, Champ sued, claiming disability discrimination. The appeals court found that the County had legitimately enforced its 251 day policy, and such actions were unrelated to Champ's disability. Indeed, the court was persuaded that Champ did not demonstrate a required element of his disability discrimination claim: qualification for the position. Champ conceded that he was unable to perform the full duties of a police officer. He could not drive vehicles in emergency conditions, make forcible arrests or correctly aim a firearm. He also conceded that all three of those functions were essential duties of a police officer's job, and that officers on light duty were not exempted from these requirements. Since he could not perform the essential functions of a police officer, even with accommodations, Champ had no right to remain an officer in a light duty position, and the County permissibly placed him on disability retirement.

Though the County was successful, two critical elements clearly factored into the Court's decision. The essential functions described above were undisputed, and Champ agreed he was unable to perform those duties.