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Conn. fire lieutenant on leave after alleged post about retired department member

The lieutenant is accused of disclosing protected health information in the post on Facebook


Mary E. O’Leary
New Haven Register, Conn.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Fire Department lieutenant has been placed on administrative leave and the former president of fire union Local 825 is alleging protected medical information was publicly shared.

Frank Ricci filed a complaint with the fire administration after an alleged post on Fire Lt. Steven Ortiz’s Facebook page talked about Ricci getting permission for additional time to take a departmental promotion exam.

Labor Director Cathleen Simpson confirmed that Ortiz is on administrative leave and an investigation into the complaint is pending.

Fire Chief John Alston Jr. said it is his policy not to comment on personnel matters or ongoing investigations. Ortiz did not respond to phone messages left seeking comment.

Ricci alleged that in, a long post on Ortiz’s page that covered a number of criticisms, this was written: “You tested against your peers and was given extra time on each test because of the ADA! That sounds fair, huh!”

In his ADA complaint to the city, Ricci asked for an investigation into alleged release of “confidential medical information as determined by Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the Facebook platform on or about July 1st.”

“Medical records are confidential. The basic rule is that with limited exceptions, employers must keep confidential any medical information they learn about an applicant or employee. Information can be confidential even if it contains non-medical diagnosis or treatment course and even if it is not generated by a health care professional. For example, an employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation would be considered medical information subject to the ADA’s confidentiality requirements,” Ricci wrote.

In his complaint, a copy of which was obtained by the Register, Ricci said it was widely known that “I am dyslexic and have several learning disabilities,” something that was part of the court records in Ricci et al v. DeStefano, a U.S. Supreme Court case in which he and 19 other firefighters won a reverse discrimination case in 2009.

However, “I cannot recall ever releasing any of my confidential medical information about me requesting or utilizing extra time on promotional tests to friends, family, media or contained in any court record,” Ricci wrote.

The former union official, who retired on July 4, said the post also was incorrect in that he did not make a request for additional time on three of the four promotional exams he took. He said he only made that request for the lieutenant’s exam, but finished before the other test-takers.

“The fact that I and people with a disability have to qualify or apologize for asking for more time demonstrates the fear of stigmatism that comes from having a learning disability,” Ricci wrote.

“(A)sking for more time does not give someone an unfair advantage,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to prove that they can overcome and compete. It is OK to ask for help and personal petty grievances cannot take away the accomplishments and achievements of people with disabilities.”

Ricci wants the city to determine how information on the time request was released.

He said the “the city has a responsibility to have a work place free of harassment and false statements,” and he alleges that the Facebook post violates department rules.

Ricci said those rules include:

“Making false report or gossip either concerning the personal character or conduct, to the discredit or detriment of any member, or the business of the Department is strictly prohibited; To be guilty of conduct in any manner prejudicial to the good name and reputation of the Department; Untruthfulness or willful misrepresentation in matters affecting the Department or employees.”

“It is not OK to harass someone because of a disability, as the effects of these words have impact on an entire community and place the children of New Haven at a disadvantage. We must be better than that,” Ricci wrote.

Of the city’s 21,500 New Haven Public School students, Ricci said he has been told that some 3,000 have special needs.

“Don’t we as a city and Fire Department want them to know that if you work hard, apply yourself you can overcome their educational challenges? What message is the Fire Department and city sending to our kids with disabilities?” Ricci asked.


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