On July 17th we wrote about a $100,000 settlement in a case brought by the EEOC on behalf of a woman with a prosthetic leg. She sued a staffing agency and the company at which she was placed, claiming that she was fired because the employer said that “they did not want anyone bumping into her.” The EEOC commented that the woman “was fired because of unjustified fears about her having a prosthetic leg. Firing employees because of baseless fears and stereotypes about their disabilities is illegal.”
We now have seen a jury decision which awarded $75,000 to an Army veteran who claimed that he was disqualified from training as an FBI special agent because of his prosthetic left hand. The veteran lost his hand due to a defective grenade while training as an Army Ranger, after having been deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan. He claimed that he was qualified for the job and could perform it with reasonable accommodation which would pose no undue hardship to the FBI, and that he would not endanger the safety of himself or others. He sued under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
In a trial ruling, the Judge stated that “The central issue in this case is whether the plaintiff was qualified within the meaning of the Rehabilitation Act. That issue depends on what are the essential functions for an FBI special agent, whether the plaintiff can perform those functions with or without a reasonable accommodation, whether he constitutes a direct threat and whether the FBI sufficiently accommodated him.”
The vet was able to fire a gun proficiently with his dominant right hand, and even though he passed his physical and was certified as medically fit for duty, he alleged that FBI instructors showed “incredible hostility and abject disrespect.” Fellow trainees heard instructors say “What’s next? Guys in wheelchairs?”
His attorney said that “We’ve seen how stereotypes work. We’ve seen how prejudices work. Prejudice starts with the notion that he or she can’t do something simply because of the label that’s assigned to them.”
See Slaby v. Holder, E.D. Va., No. 1:12-cv-01235, verdict 8/7/13.