Judge rules for firefighters in suit against N.J. State Fireman`s Association
The New Jersey State Fireman`s Association no longer can deny firefighters membership on the bases of height and weight, the Honorable Joseph Messina, judge of the Superior Court sitting in New Brunswick, New Jersey, ruled recently. The suit against the Association was filed last year by three Metuchen, New Jersey, firefighters and a former firefighter who had been denied membership because their weight exceeded the maximum an insurance company chart allowed for men of their height. The firefighters filed the suit after their appeal to the Association`s executive committee had been denied. The firefighters contended that the statute that permitted the Association to require evidence of good health was unconstitutional and discriminatory.
Judge Messina ruled that the Association`s rules relative to height and weight were “arbitrary and capricious,” noting that there was no routine follow-up physical examination after an applicant was accepted for membership. The Association, on the basis of the statute, required compliance with the weight limitation as evidence of good health. Judge Messina ruled that “being overweight is not equivalent to poor health within the meaning of the statute.” Although he said the Association violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, that was not made part of the decision.
The denial of membership in the Association did not affect the firefighters` status as volunteers in the department but would deprive them or their families of burial, line-of-duty death, and relief benefits available to needy firefighters.
Frank A. Bocchino, president of the New Jersey State Fireman`s Association, said the Association will not appeal the decision. At the present time, he explained, the Association was “looking into the ramifications of the ruling.”
George Wallace, chief of the Metuchen Fire Department, said he was “happy” the firefighters won the case. “Now,” he added, “other people denied membership on the bases of height and weight may reapply.” For additional information, contact Chief George Wallace at (908) 767-1147.