Austin officials drop workers' comp suit against firefighter

The city filed suit in 2017 to dispute a judge's decision that firefighter Carrie Stewart should receive workers' compensation after her cancer diagnosis

By Katie Hall
Austin American-Statesman

AUSTIN, Texas — The city of Austin will drop a workers’ compensation lawsuit against an Austin firefighter who was diagnosed with cancer and has argued the disease is related to her work, City Manager Spencer Cronk announced Tuesday. 

“After discussion with council today, I have asked the law department to dismiss the current litigation involving our firefighter, Carrie Stewart,” Cronk said in an email Tuesday to Mayor Steve Adler and City Council. “This has been a difficult situation from the beginning, and as your new city manager, I am glad to have council’s perspective on this matter as I reviewed it for the first time. While every workers compensation claim will be different, the circumstances here compel me to abide by the decision of the Department of Workers Compensation.”

Stewart, who has been with the Austin Fire Department for 18 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She filed for workers’ compensation arguing that her cancer was work-related, and an administrative law judge ruled in her favor. The city appealed that decision, and a panel of three judges also ruled in her favor.

As first reported by KXAN-TV earlier this month, the city filed suit last year to dispute the decision.

Cancer experts have “not determined that breast cancer is a type of cancer associated with firefighting or that might be caused by exposure to heat, smoke, radiation or a known suspected carcinogen firefighters regularly confront in their employment,” the city argued in its lawsuit last year.

Stewart’s doctor with Texas Oncology wrote a letter on the matter.

“There is certainly a possibility that her risk of cancer has been affected by her nightshift work as a firefighter and her exposure to carcinogens during her job,” her doctor wrote. “There are several studies that have suggested a link to nightshift work and increased risk of breast cancer. There are also several studies documenting an increased risk of multiple types of cancer in firefighters. An increased risk of breast cancer in female firefighters has not been demonstrated, but has been limited by the low numbers of female firefighters overall.”

KXAN reporter Kylie McGivern tweeted last week that, since the KXAN report aired, some council members have said they received “an influx of phone calls & emails, calling on the city to drop its lawsuit against an AFD firefighter.”

Council Member Delia Garza — a former Austin firefighter herself — thanked Cronk on Tuesday for his decision in a tweet.

“Happy to report that the city is dropping its lawsuit against Lt. Carrie Stewart,” Garza tweeted. “Thank you to my colleagues for supporting Lt. Stewart. And thank you to the city manager for agreeing to stop this case.”

Copyright 2018 Austin American-Statesman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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