TAMPA — A former Hillsborough County sheriff’s detective is suing the Sheriff’s Office, claiming he was the target of discrimination and forced to retire early because of his attention deficit disorder.
Demetrius Dixon, 50, was a corporal when he sought “reasonable accommodations” to take the exam required for a promotion to sergeant, according to the complaint filed Jan. 7 in Hillsborough County. Instead, the complaint says, the Sheriff’s Office required Dixon to take a fitness for duty test and then launched a retaliatory internal affairs investigation against him.
Dixon, 50, agreed to take an early medical retirement in 2019 after he was threatened with possible termination, his attorney, Kyle Lee, said in an interview.
“This is a case about a failure to accommodate, and the unfortunate and illegal assumptions that people make about people with disabilities,” Lee said. “Those people have every right to protection in the workplace.”
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the office cannot comment on pending litigation.
The complaint and Lee give this account:
Dixon joined the office as a deputy in 2003 and was promoted to detective in 2009. In 2011, Sheriff Chad Chronister, who was a sergeant at the time, encouraged Dixon to take the corporal’s exam. Dixon passed the exam and was promoted to corporal in 2013.
In or about 2017, Dixon was named acting sergeant, earning praise and high marks in that post. Superiors encouraged him to take the sergeant’s exam so he could be promoted to that post.
He failed the sergeant’s exam twice in 2017. Both times, the suit says, Dixon had difficulty concentrating, reading, focusing and comprehending during the test. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with attention deficit disorder.
According to Lee, Dixon would later test positive for amphetamines, a result of the the medication he was prescribed for the disorder. He presented his prescription to Sheriff’s Office medical staff and he was cleared to continue to use the medication.
Determined to pass the exam, Dixon sent a letter to the Sheriff’s Office in August 2018 asking for “several reasonable accommodations for the test, including orally explaining the test directions and extended time to complete the test," the complaint says.
In a meeting the following month with Chronister, who by then was sheriff, and his Chief Deputy Donna Lusczynski, Chronister “proceeded to berate, disparage, and humiliate (Dixon) based on his disability” and “made discriminatory, presumptive, and disrespectful statements, comments, and assumptions based on (his) disability,” the complaint states.
The suit says Chronister wanted to know how Dixon was reading and editing reports.
“If you can’t comprehend what you are reading in a test, are we comfortable leaving you in a corporal position over a complex squad so we don’t get embarrassed in front of media, or a jury, or anyone else?” Chronister said, according to the complaint.
Dixon had been a corporal for about five years by that point and no one had questioned Dixon’s ability to do his job, the complaint says.
Not long after that meeting, Lee said, Dixon took leave to have surgery on his hand and when he returned in early 2019 passed a standard fitness-for-duty exam. About a month later, the Sheriff’s Office informed him he would have to take a second exam, speak with a psychiatrist and bring his prescribed medication, according to Lee.
Requiring the second exam "was a discriminatory act based solely on Plaintiff’s disability and request for accommodation,” the complaint says.
When Dixon filed a grievance to contest the required second exam, the Sheriff’s Office immediately launched an internal affairs investigation, the suit says. He was later informed he was no longer fit for duty and needed to take medical retirement or could face termination.
Dixon is seeking damages in excess of $712,000, an amount based on the income and benefits he would have received if he hadn’t been forced to retire, Lee said.