Damons v City of Cape Town (2022) ZACC 13

Published On: 20th March, 2024

Authored By: Hana Hassan
Ain Shams University


Mr. Adam Damons (Damons), a firefighter employed by the City of Cape Town (City), sustained injuries during a 2010 fire drill due to the City’s, employer disregarding safety measures. He was rendered physically incapable of performing the physically demanding tasks required of an operational firefighter by this accident. Physical fitness is an essential requirement of an operational firefighter job. Before he got injured in 2008 Mr. Damons was eligible to apply for promotion to senior firefighter. In 2010, Mr. Damons applied for promotion but due to his disability, he might have been promoted in 2011. An incapacity hearing for Mr. Damons was held in 2012 to assess whether he was suffering from incapacity due to his ill health or injury, it ended up that he could be accommodated within the fire and life safety section after negotiations he agreed to be transferred to do administrative and educational work in 2013.

While his promotion application was initially considered, the City ultimately refused his application and he was not advanced or promoted to any position since his transfer in 2013. The City defended its decision by claiming that physical fitness is an inherent requirement for the job of a senior firefighter.

Damons challenged this decision, arguing that the City’s refusal constituted unfair discrimination based on his disability. He emphasized that the City’s negligence caused his injury and therefore had a responsibility to accommodate him.

They argued that regardless of the cause of Damons’ disability, he could not fulfill the core duties of the position due to his physical limitations.

The case went through various legal stages, (Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration for Conciliation) with conflicting judgments. Conciliation was unsuccessful. Then, he referred the dispute to the Arbitration which ended up remarking that to confine Mr. Damons to one position for a long time affects dignity and status. However, the arbitrator concluded that the haggling council lacked the jurisdiction to determine this aspect of the dispute.

Mr. Damons referred the Dispute to the Labour Court which had to determine two primary issues Firstly, whether, the inherent requirement of physical fitness for a firefighter makes it impossible for Mr. Damon’s advancement to the be senior firefighter, and secondly, whether the city policy constituted discrimination as to distinguished between persons on the basis of an inherent requirement and whether the application of the policy upon Mr. Damons considered unfair. Consequently, the Labour Court declared that applying the Policy to Mr. Damons which prevented him from advancing due to his disability considered to be unfair discrimination.

However, the Labour Appeal Court focused on the City’s defense, emphasizing the inherent requirement of a job to resist his claim for advancement to the position of senior firefighter and stating that reasonable accommodation only applies if it allows the employee to fulfill those requirements.

The Court granted leave to appeal. However, the appeal was ultimately dismissed in the majority judgment.

Before the Labour Appeal Court, Mr. Damons raised a question of whether there was a justification for refusing him from being advancement based on his disability when it was brought out by the city. To this, the City raised the defense that physical fitness is an essential requirement for firefighters job.

The First Judgement (minority) agrees with the findings of the Labour Court and Labour Appeal that physical fitness is an essential requirement for firefighters job. It rejected the Labour Appeal Court’s decision to set aside the Labour Court order directing the City to reconsider Mr. Damon’s development application.

The Second Judgement (majority), disagreed with the first judgment on its decision and its underlying reasoning. It agreed only with the first judgment that leave to appeal must be granted however, the second judgment dismissed the appeal.

Legal Issue:

Can physical fitness, an inherent requirement for operational firefighters, be used as a justifiable

defense against promoting a disabled firefighter (Mr. Damons) despite the City’s responsibility for

his disability-causing injury?

Arguments of the Parties:

Mr. Damons: The City should reasonably accommodate his disability and waive the physical fitness requirement for promotion due to their responsibility for his injury.

City: Physical fitness is an inherent requirement, and not promoting Mr. Damons is justified regardless of the cause of his disability.


Minority: Agreed with Mr. Damons, finding unfair discrimination and requiring the City to explore alternative accommodation options.

Majority: Disagreed, stating the inherent requirement trumps reasonable accommodation in this case. The City’s negligence is irrelevant to the discrimination claim.


This case presented a complex legal question at the intersection of disability rights, inherent job requirements, and employer negligence.

Ultimately, the majority of the Constitutional Court sided with the City, dismissing Mr. Damons’ appeal. The Court ruled that physical fitness is an inherent requirement for the position of a senior firefighter, and the City’s duty to reasonably accommodate does not extend to waiving this essential requirement. Furthermore, they determined that the City’s negligence in causing Mr. Damons’ injury was not relevant to the discrimination claim based on his current inability to fulfill the core duties of the job.

Although the minority opinion sympathized with Mr. Damons and found the City’s actions discriminatory, they were ultimately outweighed by the majority’s emphasis on the inherent requirement of the position.

As a result, the majority of the Constitutional Court ordered that leave to appeal be granted, but that the appeal must fall with no order as to costs.

This case highlights the challenges of balancing disability rights with the specific demands of certain occupations. While it emphasizes the importance of reasonable accommodation, it also clarifies that it has limitations and cannot compromise the core functionalities of a role. The lingering question remains whether alternative accommodation options within the City’s Fire and Life Safety Section, as suggested by the minority opinion, could have been explored further to offer Mr. Damons a path toward advancement. It’s important to note that this case represents a specific legal interpretation and may not be universally applicable. Each case involving disability discrimination and inherent job requirements will be evaluated based on its own unique circumstances and relevant legal frameworks.

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