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Denver Pays $100,000 to Settle DOJ Suit Over Failure to Accommodate Diabetic Deputy

by Matt Clarke

On May 15, 2018, the City and County of Denver, Colorado agreed to pay $100,000 to an unidentified deputy sheriff who was fired from his position at the Denver County jail after the Sheriff’s Department refused to accommodate his Type 1 diabetes, causing him to twice experience severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

As part of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to accommodate employees with disabilities, change their policies regarding such accommodations, and train all supervisory and human resources staff on accommodating employees with disabilities.

The deputy was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at around the age of 16. He had worked for the county for about 26 years, almost 20 of them as a deputy sheriff. To accommodate his medical condition, he had developed a routine of checking his blood sugar during regular breaks then taking insulin as needed and eating a meal or snack. To facilitate this, he carried snacks on his person and kept some in his locker.

On April 24, 2015, the deputy was unexpectedly called into work at 6 a.m. to provide security for a parole hearing. He began experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar – shakiness and sweating – but had used up the snacks he had with him. When he radioed to request a relief officer so he could get something to eat, his request was denied. After his condition worsened and he became verbally unresponsive, he was treated at the jail infirmary then sent home.

Due to the hypoglycemic episode, the deputy was required to submit to a fitness-for-duty exam at the Center for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH). Based on recommendations by the deputy’s health care provider, COSH cleared him for work with recommendations that he be allowed to 1) test his blood sugar, 2) treat low blood sugar with a snack and follow-up test, 3) eat a snack or meal every three to four hours, and 4) use a continuous glucose monitor as accommodations for his diabetes.

He returned to work but the Sheriff’s Department denied the accommodations.

Less than two months later, on a hectic day in which he was not given an opportunity for a regular meal break and had run out of snacks, the deputy again experienced a severe hypoglycemic episode. He again was required to submit to a fitness-for-duty examination. This time, based on the two incidents, a new COSH physician found him unfit for duty and he was eventually terminated.

The now-former deputy filed two complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and retaliation. The EEOC found reasonable cause to support both complaints. After conciliation efforts failed, the agency referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

On May 15, 2018, the DOJ filed a complaint against the City and County of Denver and its Sheriff’s Department in federal court, alleging violations of Title I of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12111, et seq., as the defendants had failed to offer the deputy any reasonable accommodations for his medical condition. The defendants immediately settled the case by agreeing to reinstate the deputy with full benefits and back-pay, pay $100,000 in damages, change employee policies and institute training regarding ADA-mandated accommodations for disabilities.

The defendants specifically agreed not to discriminate against employees on the basis of their disabilities, to engage in an interactive process of seeking reasonable accommodations with disabled employees, to revise their policies, practices and procedures to comply with the ADA, to give additional authority to their ADA coordinators, and to implement ADA training for all supervisory and human resources personnel. The settlement was finalized in July 2018.

Unfortunately, such outcomes are not the norm when prisoners rather than correctional employees have disabilities that are not accommodated by prison or jail staff. See: United States v. City and County of Denver, U.S.D.C. (D.Colo.), Case No. 1:18-cv-01185-WYD-MEH. 

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Related legal case

United States v. City and County of Denver