Riggan Law Firm Files Disability Discrimination Lawsuit on Behalf of Veteran Helicopter Pilot

On December 22, 2015, Riggan Law Firm, LLC, an employment law firm located in St. Louis, Missouri, filed an employment discrimination lawsuit on behalf of its client, a veteran helicopter pilot, against Air Evac EMS, Inc. d/b/a Air Evac Lifeteam. The suit alleges that the Plaintiff was fired for being overweight due to weight he gained following a disability-related surgery, and asserts disability discrimination claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act as well as a Missouri Workers' Compensation Retaliation claim.

The following are some allegations from the lawsuit:

  • Plaintiff is a Vietnam veteran combat pilot who has worked as a commercial helicopter pilot since 1971.
  • Plaintiff worked for Air Evac as a commercial helicopter pilot from September 2008 to November 19, 2014. His job was to fly a helicopter, primarily for medical emergencies.
  • In January 2014, while on duty working for Air Evac, Plaintiff fell from a 5-foot high work stand and hit the concrete, causing injury to his hips and lower back.
  • Plaintiff immediately reported the injury (which was covered by workers' compensation), and received treatment in the form of extensive physical therapy.
  • Plaintiff suffers from Osteoarthritis, a condition which was initially diagnosed in or about April 2014, and Plaintiff's doctor advised him to have hip replacement surgery, and to remain off work for surgery and recovery.
  • Plaintiff had hip replacement surgery on April 22, 2014, and as a result, he was in the hospital for ten days. Due to his surgery and the following recovery period, Plaintiff was off work on FMLA leave until mid-July 2014.
  • On July 14, 2014, Plaintiff was released by his physician to return to work, and specifically, Plaintiff was cleared to fly helicopters. However, because of his medical condition, he was restricted by his doctor from performing various non-work-related activities that he had previously performed pre-surgery in order to stay in shape to avoid weight gain, such as jogging, basketball, racquetball, etc.
  • As a result of Plaintiff's Osteoarthritis, related surgery, and post-surgery restrictions put in place by his physician, Plaintiff gained in excess of 20 pounds of body weight.
  • On July 15, 2014, an aviation medical examiner administered a flight physical to Plaintiff, which Plaintiff passed.
  • Plaintiff returned to work at Air Evac on July 21, 2014, and on that date, Plaintiff performed a number of takeoffs and landings in order to become current on his flight certificate.
  • On July 22, 2014, Plaintiff resumed his normal flight duties, which he performed without problems or incidents for the next several weeks. During that time, Plaintiff's body weight was approximately 245 pounds, and Air Evac allowed Plaintiff to perform normal flight duties.
  • Beginning in early September 3, 2014, Air Evac began issuing written discipline to Plaintiff because he was deemed overweight and in violation of Air Evac's policy with respect to the maximum body weight allowed for crew members.
  • Between early September and mid-November 2014, Plaintiff was written up twice, suspended, and ultimately fired for being overweight. During that time period, Air Evac continued to send Plaintiff on flight missions, notwithstanding Air Evac's contention that Plaintiff's ongoing "violation" of the company weight policy was a safety issue.
  • In connection with the write-ups that Air Evac provided to Plaintiff during the last couple of months of his employment, Plaintiff was directed to lose an excessive amount of weight in a very short period of time. Specifically, Air Evac demanded that Plaintiff lose 22 pounds in 29 days.

Plaintiff's lawsuit contains the following claims: disability discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act; failure to accommodate Plaintiff's disability in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act; and workers' compensation retaliation. The lawsuit seeks recovery of back pay; front pay; lost benefits; damages for emotional distress, humiliation, and diminished employment status; temporary, preliminary, and permanent injunctive relief, including but not limited to an Order requiring Air Evac to reinstate Plaintiff and/or provide Plaintiff with an appropriate position of employment at a rate of pay and benefits that is commensurate with Plaintiff's qualifications and experience; punitive damages; attorneys' fees; and costs/expenses of litigation.

According to its website, Air Evac Lifeteam's primary business involves providing air medical transportation, and it operates more than 100 bases across 15 states.