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City ordered to reinstate 250-pound firefighter

Eagle-Tribune - 6/29/2018

June 29--LAWRENCE -- The city's Retirement Board has blocked Fire Chief Brian Moriarty from firing a 250-pound firefighter who the chief alleged is unfit for duty because of his weight.

Morarity directed firefighter Alfredo Sanchez, a 17-year-veteran of the force, to retire when Sanchez returned from an 18-month disability leave after tearing a ligament in his knee. The chief told Sanchez he is too obese for the work, which can include carrying heavy loads such as equipment and people up and down ladders.

Sanchez, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall and has weighed as much as 299 pounds during his firefighting career, refused to quit.

Moriarty responded by filing an involuntary retirement petition with the Retirement Board, which rejected it in a 5-0 vote immediately after a 45 minute hearing Tuesday, according to Michael Sacco, a lawyer for the board. The board includes Kevin Loughlin, deputy chief of the Fire Department.

Because the case involved medical issues, the hearing was held behind closed doors and few of the records in the case are public. The records include Moriarty's petition and the doctors' statements Sanchez filed to prove his fitness.

The board's one-page ruling is public, but says only that Moriarty "did not put forth sufficient evidence to demonstrate Mr. Sanchez's permanent inability to perform the essential duties of his position."

"As with any disability case, we evaluated the claim and determined there was not sufficient evidence to move it to the next step," Sacco said. The next step would have been presenting the case to a medical panel.

Moriarty would not comment on the case except to say he will not appeal the decision.

Sanchez, 44, became disabled after tearing a ligament in a knee while on duty. He then tore an Achilles tendon in a heel during physical therapy. He said he also lost 50 pounds while in therapy, passed several tests intended to simulate the conditions of firefighting, including climbing ladders while carrying loaded backpacks. He said three doctors certified him fit for duty.

Employment laws do not set weight or height limits for public jobs, but allow public safety employers to require employees to pass tests proving they can do the essential tasks.

Sanchez has also filed a claim against the city with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, alleging he was discriminated against because of his race. Sanchez is Puerto Rican.

He referred questions about the relief he is seeking from the commission to his lawyer, Alan Rom, an employment lawyer in Chelmsford.

Rom could not be reached Thursday.

Sanchez would not comment on his claim.

With overtime, Sanchez earned $66,717 in 2012, the last year for which the information was available Thursday.

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(c)2018 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)

Visit The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.) at www.eagletribune.com

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