Lodi, California Firefighter Fights City After Losing Job Over Partial Hearing Loss

LODI, Calif. (AP) -- A Lodi firefighter who said he was prevented from returning to his job after losing hearing in one ear has filed a federal lawsuit against the city, saying his rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act and state employment law had been violated.

Capt. Timothy Thalken had a tumor removed between his right ear and brain in August 2003, costing him his hearing in the right ear. In the suit, Thalken claims the city refused to allow him to return to firefighting duty for more than a year and insisted he take a desk job, even though his doctor had cleared him for duty.

Thalken said city officials later threatened to fire him if he didn't apply for the desk job and refused his request to undergo a hearing test.

Thalken eventually paid for the tests himself and obtained opinions from three experts stating he still could perform his firefighting duties. But the city didn't return him to duty until February 2004, 16 months after being cleared by his doctor and six months after tests showed he could perform his job.

Thalken filed the suit in Sacramento's U.S. District Court on March 15. He sought reimbursement for his attorneys' fees, payments to experts to show he could perform his job, overtime he would have been assigned had he been placed on regular duty and unspecified damages.

City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said the Lodi City Council is scheduled to discuss the matter in closed session next week.

''The city legitimately felt it was a risk to him and his companions for him to be on the job,'' Schwabauer said. ''There are national standards that say you have to be able to hear in both ears.''