Maine rights panel finds in favor of man who claimed Belfast discriminated against him because of his diabetes

Posted March 17, 2014, at 2:27 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Human Rights Commission has unanimously supported the claim of a former Belfast paramedic and firefighter, who maintains the city of Belfast discriminated against him because of his physical disability — diabetes.

David R. Cobb of Randolph had complained to the commission in 2012 that the city refused to grant him the accommodation of working no more than two nights per week for medical reasons.

In its response to Cobb’s complaint, the city of Belfast denied the former employee had a disability, adding that a doctor determined his blood sugar spikes were largely due to his own poor food choices and didn’t warrant any work schedule modifications.

According to the Maine Human Rights Act, unless it would cause undue hardship on the operation of a business, an employer must make reasonable accommodations to the “known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability.”

Cobb said in his complaint that he submitted a note from his doctor to his supervisor, saying he needed to limit his night shifts for the next two months because of poorly controlled blood sugars. The city required Cobb to undergo a “fitness for duty” evaluation by a different doctor, he said, and that doctor told the city that Cobb’s high blood sugar levels were due to his own poor diabetes management. The doctor also said that it was not a work-related condition and did not pose a public-safety risk.

According to the city’s response to Cobb’s complaint, the former employee does not have a disability. His request to reduce his night shifts also would have put an undue burden on the remaining staff, the city said.

Investigator Robert Beauchesne found that the accommodation Cobb had requested was reasonable, and that two doctors agreed that changing sleep patterns is a factor in elevated blood sugar levels in diabetics. He found that Cobb had reasonable grounds to believe he was discriminated against, and on Monday, Feb. 24, all four commissioners present at the hearing agreed.

The Maine Human Rights Commission is the state agency charged with enforcing Maine’s anti-discrimination laws. Its decision in favor of Cobb means that he and Belfast officials first will try to reach a negotiated resolution, but if they cannot, he can file a lawsuit against the city of Belfast.

 

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