Equip for Equality Files Third Lawsuit Against Chicago Police Department for Discrimination Against Officers with Ambulatory Disabilities
Officer Who Needs Cane Banned from Limited Duty Job
CHICAGO (February 21, 2002) - In its third federal lawsuit filed today against the Chicago Police Department on behalf of a police officer with a mobility impairment who must use an assistive device, Equip for Equality continues its fight to eliminate Department policy that bars such officers from serving in a limited duty capacity. The lawsuit asserts that the Department is in violation of the Federal Rehabilitation Act for adhering to a clearly discriminatory policy, which states that officers on limited duty must be able to "maintain an independent and stable gait without the assistance of external ambulatory supporting devices."
Judith Kelley is an 11-year veteran of the force, who worked at a limited-duty desk job for six years following removal of a brain tumor that left her with some paralysis of her left side and a limp. In December 2000, she was forced to undergo a Department evaluation and then take medical leave when the evaluator determined that she should use a cane to assist her in walking stably. The Department has denied her request to return to work in her former limited duty position, which involves thinking, talking and using a computer - all of which are accomplished from a sitting position and have nothing do to with using a cane. Instead, she was told that she must go on disability or be terminated when her leave expires March 6.
Kelley's attorney is Karen I. Ward, Equip for Equality's Senior Counsel, who says, "The Chicago Police Department's policy is nonsensical. It is obvious that, as an experienced officer, Judith can perform a variety of useful jobs and remain an asset to the Department. We do not intend to end this fight until we succeed in changing the policy permanently so that the rights of people with disabilities are assured."
Kelley is grateful that Equip for Equality agreed to add her case to its fight for equal rights in the Chicago Police Department. She says, "I can work, I want to work and it has been a waste of taxpayers money for nearly a year that I have not been permitted to work."
Equip for Equality's history in trying to bring about a permanent change in the Department's policy banning assistive devices began with Richard B. Clark v. City of Chicago. The case was ongoing at the same time Kelley was required to take medical leave. Clark, who became a police officer in 1986, had to use a wheelchair for mobility after an off-duty accident in 1991. His request for a reasonable accommodation to return to work in a limited-duty position was rejected. The case settled on the eve of trial in June 2001 with a $337,500 settlement and a promotion but did not result in the desired policy change.
In Joseph C. Cataldo v. City of Chicago filed by Equip for Equality in October 2001, Cataldo, a 7-year Department veteran, was also denied a limited duty position because he had to use a wheelchair following treatment for cancer. Federal Judge Wayne Andersen issued a temporary restraining order barring the Department from using the challenged regulation against Cataldo. That case is still pending.
"Hundred of officers serve on limited duty in the Chicago Police Department, some for years, with a variety of limitations including heart disease and artificial hips and knees," says Barry C. Taylor, Equip for Equality's Legal Advocacy Director. "These officers are temporarily or indefinitely unable to serve on full duty. But officers who must use wheelchairs, canes, crutches or other assistive devices for ambulation are banned from the workplace. There is no justice in this policy and we are committed to its elimination."
The mission of Equip for Equality is to advance the human and civil rights of people with disabilities in Illinois. It is the only comprehensive statewide advocacy organization providing self-advocacy assistance, legal services, disability rights education, public policy advocacy and abuse investigations. As the private, not-for-profit entity designated by the Governor to administer the federal Protection and Advocacy System, Equip for Equality has broad statutory power to safeguard the rights of people with physical and mental disabilities, including developmental disabilities and mental illnesses.
For more information contact Barry Taylor or Karen Ward at 312/341-0022 or TTY 800/610-2779.