FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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Barry C. Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director
Karen I. Ward, Senior Counsel
(312) 341-0022, TTY (800) 610-2779
Public Information Director
Equip for Equality Obtains Consent Decree in Discrimination Action Against Chicago Police Department
Officer Who Needs Cane Can Return to Work Permanently
CHICAGO (April 23, 2002) -- Today United States District Court Judge James Alesia entered a permanent injunction against the City of Chicago in a case brought by Equip for Equality charging that the Chicago Police Department's minimum eligibility requirements for limited duty violate the federal Rehabilitation Act. In a consent decree, he enjoined the City from applying the discriminatory policy to Judith Kelley, an 11-year veteran of the force who walks with a cane and was denied her job in Central Booking, a limited duty position she had held for five years.
"I am thrilled with this result," said Kelley. "The Chicago Police Department had thrown me away as useless, but because of this ruling, I am back doing my job and doing it well. I feel great!"
Kelley had been on forced paid leave for a year until Judge Alesia granted a temporary restraining order effective April 7 directing the Department to permit her to return to work based on her likely success in court on her claim that the City's policy violated federal law. Trial was set for April 30. On April 9, the City's attorneys announced in court that the Department no longer intended to impose the allegedly unlawful policy on Kelley.
Her disability arose from surgery to remove a non-malignant brain tumor in 1994 that left her with some paralysis on her left side and a limp. She was and is in no way hampered from performing the essential functions of her duties - responding to telephone inquiries and using a computer. The Department's policy (General Order 98-2), however, bars officers from limited duty unless they can maintain an independent and stable gait without the use of external (visible) supporting devices such as wheelchairs and canes, although hundred of officers with a variety of limitations including heart disease and artificial hips and knees are able to serve in that capacity.
"Today's decree represents a complete capitulation by the City revealing that it would not be able to justify this ridiculous policy in court," says Karen I. Ward, Senior Counsel for Equip for Equality and lead attorney in the case. "It is also a practical admission that limited duty officers using assistive devices pose no safety threat in the workplace. If the Department does not formally remove the policy from its books, we will continue litigation until it does."
Equip for Equality has filed two other lawsuits challenging the same unjust policy. Richard Clark, an officer who had to use a wheelchair following an off-duty accident in 1991 was denied his request to return to work in a limited duty position. That case settled on the eve of trial in June 2001 with a $337,500 settlement and promotion for Clark. But the policy remained on the books.
In October 2001, police officer Joseph Cataldo also was denied a limited duty position because he had to use a wheelchair following cancer treatment complications. In that instance, Judge Wayne Andersen issued a temporary restraining order barring the Department from using the challenged regulation against Cataldo. The case is still pending.
Under the Rehabilitation Act, a qualification standard that has the effect of screening out individuals with disabilities is unlawful unless the employer validates it by proving in court that it is required by business necessity. "This is something the City cannot do," said Barry C. Taylor, Equip for Equality's Legal Advocacy Director. "The policy is based upon nothing but stereotypes and unfounded assumptions about people with disabilities, the very things the law was designed to eliminate. Prejudice is not a business necessity."
"We call upon the Mayor to take his pledge for making Chicago a national leader in the employment of people with disabilities to his own police department, instead of allowing taxpayer money to be spent on lawsuits such as the Kelley case," said Zena Naiditch, Equip for Equality's President and CEO. "The Mayor should intervene to bring the police department in line with his vision for the City."
Reference Judith Kelley v. City of Chicago, No. 02C1262
For more information, contact Barry Taylor or Karen Ward at 312/341-0022 or TTY 800/610-2779.