Calif. fire captain gets $245,000 in disability lawsuit


By Henry K. Lee
The San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND, Calif. — The city of Oakland has agreed to pay $245,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by an Oakland Fire Department captain who alleged that she was discriminated against after she suffered a seizure and passed out on the job.

Vicky Evans-Robinson, 55, who has served as a spokeswoman for the agency, filed a disability discrimination lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court in 2006 after the city temporarily barred her from returning to active duty following an on-the-job seizure and other medical problems.

Judge Ronni MacLaren ruled on Nov. 13 that the city was not liable for disability discrimination but said a jury would have to decide whether Evans-Robinson was subjected to "adverse employment actions because of a medical condition."

The Oakland City Council decided to settle the case four days after the ruling rather than risk a negative decision by a jury. The council is expected to formally ratify the agreement on Dec. 8.

"There were legitimate concerns on both sides as to what a jury might think," Evans-Robinson's attorney Duane Reno said Sunday.

In 2000 and 2001, Evans-Robinson was the public information officer for the Fire Department, answering questions from the media at major fire incidents. After her first seizure in 2005, she was medically cleared to return to work, but she lost consciousness in 2006 after she was reinstated and, in a separate incident in 2007, had another seizure, according to court documents.

The lawsuit accused the department of refusing to allow her to return to active duty on three occasions from 2005 to 2008. She claimed the city ignored reports by her neurologists and failed to arrange for evaluations by its own neurologists in a timely manner.

City officials denied any wrongdoing, saying they gave Evans-Robinson time off for necessary medical evaluations and because they wanted to ensure that she was able to perform her duties as a fire captain without endangering herself or others.

Evans-Robinson has been back to work for more than a year and now works with the hazardous materials division, Reno said.

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