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FDNY, retired captain settle disability case

Gerald Snell is a substance abuse counselor at

Gerald Snell is a substance abuse counselor at the FDNY and fought an attempt by the department to force him into retirement. (Sept. 3, 2006) Credit: Julia Gaines

A retired FDNY captain will get more than $7,000 in back pay and an adjustment to his pension after federal officials settled a case alleging the city failed to accommodate disabilities he received after the 9/11 attacks.

Gerald Snell, who suffered irreversible lung damage while participating in search, recovery and cleanup operations at Ground Zero, will receive $7,049 in back pay and a pension and disability adjustment based on the payment in the settlement disclosed Wednesday by the Brooklyn U.S. attorney's office.

The FDNY agreed to create and implement procedures designed to give reasonable accommodation to firefighters who have disabilities and not force them to retire, the U.S. attorney's office said. Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission officials alleged there was evidence the city had discriminated against Snell and other firefighters on the basis of disability, a claim the city denied, according to court records.

Snell, 61, of Long Beach, was a 27-year veteran of the FDNY when he retired in 2006. Snell claimed in a Newsday interview that year that the FDNY unfairly forced him to retire because of his ailments though he wanted to continue working as a supervisor. Snell could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"All New York City firefighters with disabilities -- and in particular 9/11 first responders such as Mr. Snell -- are entitled to the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act," Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement announcing the settlement. "This includes the right to receive reasonable accommodation in the form of reassignment where appropriate."

City senior corporation counsel Kathleen Comfrey said in a statement that "pursuing this lawsuit would have been extraordinarily difficult for the United States in light of firefighters' unlimited paid sick leave and generous pension plan, and the city's ongoing obligation to the citizens of New York to clamp down on pension abuses."

"Firefighters have 20-year retirement pensions precisely because the legislature recognized early on that given the physically demanding nature of the job, many firefighters are unable to maintain the necessary fitness," Comfrey explained.

Comfrey said that because of the provisions of the FDNY pension plan, firefighters have not expressed "major concerns" over the process through which the department has made accommodations for members facing disability.

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