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MHRC investigator finds that City of Belfast unlawfully refused to accommodate employee with diabetes

A Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) investigator has reportedly found that the City of Belfast’s Fire and Ambulance Department violated the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) when it refused to provide reasonable accommodations to a former employee who had diabetes. The former employee, David Cobb, provided the Belfast Fire and Ambulance Department with a note from his doctor which said that he needed to reduce the number of night shifts he worked for a couple months because those night shifts were contributing to his elevated blood sugar levels. Mr. Cobb did not think the accommodation would impose any hardship on the Fire and Ambulance Department because he only needed to reduce his night shifts for two months.

Rather than grant the accommodation that Mr. Cobb and his doctor said he needed, the Belfast Fire and Ambulance Department sent Mr. Cobb to its own doctor for an evaluation. The Fire and Ambulance Department’s doctor said Mr. Cobb did not need to cut back on his night shifts and could work his regular schedule. The Belfast Fire and Ambulance Department then refused to grant Mr. Cobb the accommodation he requested. Faced with the dilemma of whether he should disobey his doctor’s orders in order to keep his job, Mr. Cobb chose to resign because he did not want to violate his doctor’s orders.

The City of Belfast reportedly argued to the MHRC that Mr. Cobb does not have a disability because there is no medical evidence that his condition limits his life activities or significantly impairs his physical health. This argument should have been immediately rejected because the MHRA definition of disability specifically includes diabetes. In other words, if you have diabetes, you are disabled under the MHRA, period.

The Commissioners for the MHRC will vote at their next meeting on whether to agree with the MHRC investigator’s finding that reasonable grounds exist to believe that the City of Belfast violated the MHRA when it refused to provide Mr. Cobb with the accommodation that he requested for his diabetes. If the Commissioners rule in favor of Mr. Cobb, the MHRC will engage in a “conciliation” process where it tries to broker a settlement between the complainant, Mr. Cobb, and the respondent, the City of Belfast. If the case does not settle, the next step could be a lawsuit.