In 1991, Danny Wisner became a Sioux City firefighter. In 2004, he was granted a disability retirement because of a heart condition. While still receiving those firefighter disability benefits, he became a maintenance worker for the same city after passing a pre-employment physical without restriction.
Approximately six months later, the city fired him. It claimed that Wisner: (1) did not meet performance expectations, (2) lacked motivation to learn his responsibilities and (3) required a great deal of direct supervision to keep him motivated.
He then sued the city and others, asserting a claim of violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and a defamation claim.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss.
They first argued that Wisner was not “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA with respect to the maintenance job because: (1) he passed the physical exam, (2) he never claimed that any physical or mental condition prevented him from performing the essential functions of his job and (3) he never requested any type of accommodation for any reason.
Wisner responded that his disability-discrimination claim was based on continuing bias he faced from the city because he was perceived by his supervisors as “double dipping” by continuing to draw firefighter disability benefits at the same time he was a maintenance worker.
EMPLOYER WINS [put arrow here]
District Judge Donald O’Brien ruled that even if the defendants had done exactly what Wisner claimed, that did not violate the ADA. Because Wisner had failed to allege either a disability that affected his job or a request for an accommodation, the judge dismissed the claim.
With respect to his defamation claim, Wisner argued that he had been defamed because he would forever be forced to put on future job applications that he had been fired.
The judge said that defamation consisted of a malicious publication—expressed either orally or in writing—that tended to injure the reputation of a person or to expose that person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule.
But Judge O’Brien ruled that the firing of an employee was not inherently defamatory. He stated that for an action for defamation to proceed against an employer, there had to be publication by the employer of defamatory commentary about the employee to a third party. He explained that even if the city had fired Wisner for an unlawful reason, that alone would not amount to defamation unless the details were communicated by the city to others, and Wisner had failed to allege that the city had published anything about Wisner to anyone.
With respect to Wisner’s argument that being forced to report his discharge to potential employers amounted to defamation, the judge said that the information about the termination was true, and that truth was a defense to a defamation claim.
Judge O’Brien dismissed the claims.
[Wisner v. City of Sioux City, et al., U.S. District Court for the District of Iowa, No. 14-CV-4031, 03/21/2015].