Weird firefighter test prompts 2-court fight

BRIDGEPORT - A Bridgeport high school graduate with a learning disability wants a federal judge to void the city's 2002 firefighter exam and the resulting hiring list because he claims the test was not properly read to him and he was not given sufficient time to answer each question.

Richard Tuozzoli, the applicant with the learning disability, and his lawyer, Susan Wallace, sued the city and its Civil Service Commission, claiming a bizarre series of incidents during the test affected his final score.

Wallace claims the city avoided a scheduled Feb. 9 injunction hearing in Superior Court by having the case transferred to federal court.

"They [the city attorney's office] threw off our chance to get a timely hearing before a judge," an angry Wallace charged Wednesday. "What they did is tie up the resources of two courts."

But, Associate City Attorney John Mitola said he had the case transferred to federal court because Wallace "raises numerous issues involving the [federal] Americans With Disabilities Act. I count 20 references to terminology of that act in her complaint."

He denied that the transfer was a stalling tactic.

The suit now rests with U.S. District Judge Christopher Droney in Hartford.

But Wallace intends to ask Droney to send it back to state court.

Incidents leading to the lawsuit began in August 2002 when Tuozzoli applied for the entry-level firefighters' exam. He asked the city to accommodate his disability by providing a person to read the questions to him and sufficient time for him to answer them.

The suit claims the city agreed to this in writing.

But, the suit claims, things changed when the test was given on Sept. 14, 2002.

The suit contends that Tuozzoli and three other candidates with learning disabilities were shuttled into a separate room where a female and male city employee were to alternate reading the questions.

"The two proctors [readers] couldn't even agree among themselves how to give the exam," Wallace claimed.

Wallace said the man and woman reading the test soon became involved in a dispute over whether they were to read a question, allow sufficient time to answer and then read the next question or read the entire test and allow sufficient time to answer the questions.

As a result, they elected to have the four candidates vote on how to proceed. When that vote was evenly split, the readers decided to call John Colligan, the city's personnel director, for advice on how to proceed.

The suit claims the male reader told the candidates Colligan ordered him to read the test through, then allow a minute for each question to be answered.

"Throughout the written test, there were interruptions, questions and discussion among the applicants and the [readers], which interfered with [Tuozzoli's] ability to comprehend and answer the questions," the suit charges. "Applicants who are not disabled or who did not request reasonable accommodation were not subject to interruptions, questions and discussions during the written test " according to the suit.

In addition to the test scores and hiring results being voided, the suit asks that Tuozzoli be hired as a firefighter and that the city pay his attorney fees.

"He may be learning disabled, but that wouldn't prevent him from busting into a burning home and rescuing someone," Wallace said of her client.
Connecticut Post

I am just speechless about this whole situation, although it sure sounds like this lawyer has a lot of experience fighting fires.