FEDERAL COURT RULES FOR TRIAL ON EMPLOYMENT CLAIM AGAINST CITY BY POLICE OFFICER WITH DISABILITY
Equip for Equality Represents Plaintiff under Rehabilitation Act
CHICAGO (July 13, 2000) - Equip for Equality, the federally-mandated protection and advocacy system for people with mental and physical disabilities in Illinois, will go to trial Oct. 10, 2000 on behalf of Richard Clark, a Chicago police officer who has sued the City of Chicago in U.S. District Court for reinstatement to his job. Clark, who was hired as a police officer in 1986, must use a wheelchair for mobility following an off-duty accident in 1991. His request for a reasonable accommodation to return to work in a limited-duty postion has been rejected.
"We believe that a positive outcome in this case will be precedent-setting and ensure that, in the future, police officers who sustain disabilities can return to their job," says Karen I. Ward, litigation director of Equip for Equality.
The dispute centers on whether Clark is qualified to return to work as a limited-duty officer. The City claims he is not qualified because he is unable to perform the essential functions of a sworn police officer, specifically, shooting his weapon while standing and walking without an assistive device. On a motion for summary judgment filed by the City to avoid a jury trial, the Court dismissed Clark's claim under the ADA on procedural grounds, but found in favor of plaintiff's claim under the Rehabilitation Act and set the case for trial.
"We contend that the City allows sworn officers to work in limited duty positions without requirements for either standing up to shoot a firearm or walking without an assistive apparatus," says Beth Miller, senior attorney representing Clark for Equip for Equality. "In fact, the Court stated in its opinion that the City admitted that officers on limited duty do not require independent ambulation. Additionally, we can show that other officers who use wheelchairs, canes or walkers have previously been placed in limited duty positions."
The Court has disagreed with the City's position that all 13,200 police officers must be fit for deployment and able to shoot standing up or walk independently. It noted that 340 officers were on limited duty in 1999. The opinion cites as an example the Bulls championship games when all essential and non-essential officers were assigned to the street except for those officers on limited duty who were not deployed. Typically, officers on limited duty are assigned administrative functions with the Alternate Response Unit or the Field Inquiry Unit.
"I have been trying to return to work since 1994. I look forward to going to trial and telling the jury my story," says plaintiff Clark. "There's no question in my mind that there is a place for me in the Chicago Police Department where I can continue to make a valuable contribution."
Equip for Equality, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit organization designated by the Governor to advance the rights of people with physical or mental disabilities in Illinois through self-advocacy assistance, education, legal services and public policy initiatives pursuant to federal law.
For further information, contact Barry C. Taylor, Equip for Equality, at 312/341-0022, 800/537-2632 or TTY 800/610-2779.