Equip for Equality Wins Temporary Restraining Order in Third Discrimination Suit Against Chicago Police Department
Officer Who Needs Cane Can Return to Work
CHICAGO (April 3, 2002) - Equip for Equality, a private, nonprofit legal advocacy organization for people with disabilities in Illinois, has won the first round in its third federal lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department for discrimination against police officers with ambulatory disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. U.S. district Judge James H. Alesia yesterday granted a temporary restraining order directing the Department to permit police officer Judith Kelly, an 11-year veteran of the force, to return to her limited duty desk job in Central Booking April 8. Trial is set for April 30.
Kelley has been on forced paid leave for a year because she walks with a limp and needs a cane for assistance, which puts her in violation of Department policy stating that officers on limited duty must be able to maintain an independent and stable gait without the use of external supporting devices. Her paid leave was set to expire April 6 when she would have been stripped of her position and removed from the payroll.
"We are hopeful that the City will voluntarily change its policy, eliminate the need for a trial and pave the way for capable individuals, who happen to use canes, wheelchairs or any other assistive ambulatory device, to be productive officers in the Chicago Police Department," said Karen I. Ward, one of the attorneys representing Kelley and Equip for Equality's Senior Counsel. "If they choose to keep this ridiculous policy on the books, then Equip for Equality is prepared to continue the fight."
Kelly's 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 is in no way hampered from performing the essential functions of her duties - responding to telephone inquiries and using a computer. She worked in her limited duty position for more than five years and passed a firearm certification test each year before the Department enforced the policy that would take away her job.
In granting the Temporary Restraining Order, Judge Alesia agreed with Kelley that she would probably be able to show that the Department's policy against her was unlawful. Under the Rehabilitation Act, an employer is prohibited from using a qualification standard that screens out individuals with disabilities unless the employer can prove business necessity.
Equip for Equality's first effort to eliminate the Department's unjust policy was its representation of Richard Clark, an officer who had to use a wheelchair after an off-duty accident in 1991 and was denied his request for a reasonable accommodation to return to work in a limited duty position. The case settled on the eve of trial in June 2001 with a $337,500 settlement and a promotion for Clark but the policy remained.
In October 2001, police officer Joseph Cataldo was also denied a limited duty position because he had to use a wheelchair following treatment for cancer. 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.
The mission of Equip for Equality is to advance the human and civil rights of people with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois. Designated by the Governor in 1985 to administer the federal Protection and Advocacy System (P&A) with broad statutory power, it is the only comprehensive statewide legal advocacy organization providing self-advocacy assistance, legal services, disability rights education, public policy advocacy and abuse investigations.
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.