Victory for US Marshal Service, 4th Cir. Rejects Disability Lawsuit

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 22, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

U.S. Marshals must perform a number of interesting and sometimes dangerous activities. In performing these activities, their physical health might come into issue. In such cases, however it’s not unheard of that employment disputes can arise, particularly in the case of employment discrimination lawsuits and disability discrimination lawsuits.

In an unpublished opinion, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the summary judgment granted by the district court on a case involving a U.S. Marshal and disability discrimination lawsuit.

Phillip Cochran, a former Deputy United States Marshal (DUSM), brought a disability claim under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 against the United States Marshal's Service.

Cochran had served as a DUSM from 1986 to 1993. His duties included a host of exciting things: protecting witnesses, providing safe transport of prisoners and catching fugitives.

As a result of the duties they were required to do, U.S. Marshals were required to meet a set of medical fitness standards. One of these was the requirement that DUSMs must "be able to hear a whispered voice at 15 feet with each ear," without a hearing aid.

In November of 1992, Cochran learned that he suffered from hearing loss, which disqualified him from service. In 1993, he was asked to retire, or he would be removed for medical unfitness. He chose to retire.

In 1994, the standards changed and DUSMs were allowed hearing aids. At Cochran's request, he was placed on a priority list but according to the U.S. Marshal service, he never followed through with the required paperwork.

Cochran subsequently filed a formal complaint alleging discriminatory discharge and seeking immediate reinstatement, saying that he didn't want to be put on the priority list.

The district court found that Cochrane was not "disabled" under the Rehabilitation Act (RA). The RA places three potential formulations under which an individual can be deemed disabled:

  1. The individual had a "physical or mental impairment" that "substantially limited" a "major life activity".
  2. The employer regarded him as disabled;
  3. The individual established a record of such impairment.

As such, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling in favor of the U.S. Marhsals Service.

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