Correctional Officer Says He Was Fired Over Prosthetic Foot After Amputation

Former Prince George’s County Correctional Sgt. Joseph Watts said he was discriminated against and wants his job back.

Upper Marlboro, MD – A former Prince George’s County correctional officer said he was fired for have a prosthetic foot, and he wants his job back.

Prince George’s County Correctional Sergeant Joseph Watts had just been made acting lieutenant when his doctor told him they needed to amputate his foot because of complications with his diabetes, WRC reported.

“The decision was made to go ahead and remove the foot, which they did a below the knee amputation,” Watts said.

He initially put off the surgery for work.

“I recently was promoted to lieutenant, acting lieutenant, and I didn't want that to affect my promotion because I worked so hard for it,” Watts told WRC.

It was a rough recovery, but the 15-year veteran of the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections said that he got through it by staying focused on returning to work.

“I had my stumbles and I had my falls, but I got up and kept going,” Watts said.

But he had a short-lived celebration when his doctor finally cleared him to return to work full duty at the jail.

The Department of Corrections told Watts that he had to pass an agility test before he could return to duty, WRC reported.

The agility test is something that is usually given only to brand new recruits, and never to veteran officers returning from medical leave with clearance from their physician.

Prince George’s Correctional Lieutenant Tammie Owens, the president of the union who represents the correctional officers, said that she’s never seen an agility test administered to a veteran officer in her 30 years of working there, WRC reported.

Watts took the test, and failed. So he was placed on light duty by his supervisors.

“I believe that was a means to try to discourage me,” Watts said.

The union boss agreed with him, WRC reported.

“The department - not his doctor - but the department placed him on light duty,” Lt. Owens said. “Even when his doctor was giving him documentation saying you're full duty, they wanted more, more, more and was not allowing him to come off in a full-duty status.”

But Correctional Sgt. Watts did as he was ordered and returned to work light duty, WRC reported.

Lt. Owens said that after he returned to work, Sgt. Watts did everything that he would have done on full duty, except patrol the cell block.

And the lieutenant said he didn’t patrol the cell block because his supervisors told him not to, not because his doctors restricted him, WRC reported.

Eleven months later, the Department of Corrections informed Sgt. Watts that he had used up all his light duty time and so he was fired.

The former correctional officer said that he had a good record for his entire 15 years of employment by the county and never received a bad review or was cited for bad behavior, WRC reported.

Watts said that he can still do his job – at full duty – and he wants his job back.

“Working in this field of work, where we are given care, custody and control over other people's family members, and if you treat me like this, one of your own, what do we expect how you’re going to treat them?” he asked.

Watts and his union representatives are scheduled to appeal his termination to the county personnel board in October, according to WRC.

He said he has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Denise Clark, an employment attorney who specialized in disability discrimination, said that complaints like Watts has made are becoming more common.

“The agencies tend to not want to embrace what the [Americans with Disabilities Act] is today,” said Clark, who does not represent Watts.

“It's a much broader statute,” she explained. “It provides employees with greater rights with regards to demonstrating not just that they have an impairment, but that there is an accommodation that can be provided to them so that they can continue to work.”

Comments (15)
No. 1-15
Cstuartsr
Cstuartsr

Joseph, I hope you fight this to the end. If a doctor cleared you to go back to work then the agency decided that you needed to pass a test given only to new employees it is a clear.case of discrimination. I hope you don’t stop fighting until you get your job and rank back.

IseeWhereThisIsGoing
IseeWhereThisIsGoing

Interesting.... I guess the real question is can he do the job as required by his employer? The department have him go through the entry level agility test (FWIW, making everyone go through that annual is a good way to ensure the current fitness standards are still being met, but if that's the not the standard, than it's questionable), and he was unable to. But since passing the agility test isn't a condition of employment aside from as an entry level hire, is it really a valid way to determine if he can do the job?

The doctor said he can return to full duty... is the department able to show that with his disability, he is unable to perform all the job functions of a CO? It will likely come down to what the department's standards are in determining how every employee is evaluated for a return to duty; if he was treated differently that others, that's your discrimination suit.

Berniejugs1
Berniejugs1

At least he wants to work and not disability. Good for him

Just-My-Thoughts
Just-My-Thoughts

As long as he can do his job without restriction, he should be able to keep it, he worked hard to get where he is. If he can't he should be given something he can do and not fired. God bless him for doing the best he can and his determination.

unholyone
unholyone

Good luck Sarge and don't give up.

PattiF
PattiF

I went thru the same thing almost 8 years. I sued and won.

hausdok
hausdok

Sergeant Watts should fight this tooth and nail. There are plenty of vets who've had below-the-knee amputations that have opted to remain in the military and are doing fine. My own younger brother lost his foot in a motorcycle accident decades ago. He wears a prosthesis like Sgt. Watts' and it hasn't stopped him from doing anything he wants to do. He even pilots a plane and works as a flight instructor! Someone in Sgt. Watts' chain of command obviously has a problem with amputees in general - otherwise why waste the expense of training the officer and lose years of good service? That person wanted him gone. When that person realized there was no way to fire him for cause, he/she did the one thing that afforded the opportunity to terminate him - forced him to take the agility test. The sad thing is it takes a while to become accustomed to those prothesis and to work all of the kinks out. If they'd given him another year to become better accustomed to the prosthesis he'd have probably passed that damned test.

artw44
artw44

When we look, and start listening to people, this type of thing happens all the time. A lot of times the people who discriminate in this way do not realize they are being so biased against someone. When we predetermine someone's ability due to what we can see, be it race, sex, or as in this case, physical appearance, we are doing them a serous injustice.

Mic911
Mic911

If he is a supervisor, acting Lieutenant, why would he be out patroling cell blocks? I would think he has enough to do in the office, let the CO's and those assigend cell block duty do the grunt work. This is a definite case of discrimination, good luck Sgt. Watts...give'em hell!!!!

SDLucas
SDLucas

Prayers. Keep fighting, Sergeant.

Excalibr4
Excalibr4

Any fool can see he will not have the agility of a whole person. There are so many moves a person can make that will be hindered by not having any muscles below the knee, I can't imagine him being hired to a job that might entail hand to hand combat situations. Give him a desk job, if one is available. If not let him sue. The doctor is a quack, if he thinks this guy is equally able as he was before the amputation.

THEDUKE
THEDUKE

As if this PG County,MD Correctional Sgt hadn't gone through enough already. This person should sue big as he was provided a Doctor's return to work release ,asked for accommodation and was denied. "Accommodation" was and is the solution to let this 15 yr. veteran continue his employment but just in a different capacity. PG County MD is a huge municipality and if they wanted to provide some reasonable accommodation they could have done so. Accommodation occurs on a regular basis and Kudos for this man who despite his injuries, just wants to work.

Shirleybaird571
Shirleybaird571

That is sad, when a man has 15 yrs., & they throw him away. People with handicaps, should be able to be hired, if they want to work.

TangoTango
TangoTango

I truly hope Sgt Joseph Watts wins his case and the County Bureaucrats have to personally welcome Sgt Watts back to the County Jail as the Lieutenant with Full Lieutenant back pay for every day he was healing up and every day since they wrongly fired him!!!!

Keep fighting Sir!!!! You are a true Warrior!!!! I am an Above Knee Amputee, so this story of the Bureaucrats firing you got my knickers in a hard twist!!!! SHAME ON THE COUNTY OFFICIALS WHO FIRED THIS MAN!!!!

Woobie46
Woobie46

I agree with those who have stated that he should be given an accommodation and continue his employment. BUT if his employment MUST involve walking around or being in the company of hardened criminals who just MIGHT decide to try to fight, then I think the liability is too great. HOwever, just like police depts., I suspect there are many, many other jobs that he could do that would not bring him in contact with the depraved. He should have a job; just not one where his safety and other people's safety are a possibility.