A recent federal employment law case has set a significant precedent that will likely impact the way law enforcement agencies view disabled job applicants and treat disabled employees. It will also likely provide encouragement to injured veterans seeking to be productive citizens as they re-enter civilian life.
In Justin Slaby v. Eric Holder, Jr., the U.S. District Court considered whether the FBI discriminated against a disabled veteran when it dismissed him. In 2004, Justin Slaby , an Army Ranger who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, while preparing for a fourth tour lost his left hand when a defective grenade exploded prematurely. Slaby’s right hand is his dominant hand. After learning to use a prosthetic left hand, Slaby applied to and was accepted by the FBI academy to train to become a special agent. In 2009 after a few weeks at the academy, FBI academy instructors removed him from training because of his disability. The FBI did not dismiss him completely. He was first offered a job as a janitor, then as a member of the support staff. Slaby filed a lawsuit in federal court, asserting that the FBI discriminated against him because of his disability in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This case has been closely watched by law enforcement as well as other employers as its outcome will likely significantly impact their hiring practices. It has also been closely watched by veterans groups as injured veterans often face considerable obstacles when they return from combat and try to assimilate back into civilian life.
The FBI defended its decision to not permit Slaby to continue training based on its belief that even with accommodations, due to his disability Slaby was unable to handle a gun and would put himself and other agents a risk. The Americans with Disabilities Act, while requiring employers to make certain accommodations for disabled employees, also provides that such accommodations do not have to be made if the employee poses a direct threat to safety. The government’s case, however, was damaged by the fact that Teresa Carlson, the head of the FBI’s Wisconsin’s office, stated her belief that disabled people should not be FBI agents and warned an FBI firearms instructor slated to be a witness at the trial to “come down on the side of the government.”
Eight days of testimony produced evidence that it is not necessary to be proficient with a firearm using a non-dominant hand to pass the FBI’s firearm test. Furthermore, evidence was presented that Slaby was not only proficient with his dominant hand he also was quite capable of using a firearm with his prosthetic. The jury found in favor of Slaby. It awarded Slaby $75,000 and back pay. Slaby will also be permitted to complete his training to become an FBI special agent. He will be the first FBI agent with a prosthetic limb. It is unclear as to whether the government will appeal the verdict. Teresa Carlson, who invoked her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination, has since been reassigned from the Wisconsin FBI office. A criminal investigation of her conduct is pending.
Do you think that discrimination is a significant factor in the inability of many disabled, returning veterans to find employment?