EQUIP FOR EQUALITY GOES TO BAT FOR CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER WITH CANCER BARRED FROM WORK
Federal Judge Issues Temporary Restraining Order in ADA Case
CHICAGO (Oct. 1, 2001) -- On Sept. 28, Federal Judge Wayne R. Andersen issued a Temporary Restraining Order enjoining the City of Chicago Police Department from enforcing a policy that disqualified police officer Joseph Cataldo from working because he uses a wheelchair. A 7-year veteran who is in treatment for cancer, Cataldo is represented by Equip for Equality (EFE), which is the statewide organization designated by the Governor under federal mandate and empowered to protect the rights of people with disabilities in Illinois.
EFE filed a lawsuit Aug. 27 on Cataldo's behalf asserting that the police department's policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act. It asks the court to bar its enforcement against Cataldo. The temporary ruling in Cataldo's favor indicates that the Judge believes the plaintiff is likely to be successful in challenging the rule's validity.
In April, Cataldo was approved for limited duty status. In August, his doctor recommended he use a wheelchair to get to and from his office because of weakness in his leg resulting from the cancer and its treatment. The Department refused to allow him to return to work citing a policy that officers on limited duty must be able to "maintain an independent and stable gait without the assistance of external ambulatory supporting devices."
Limited duty is available to officers who have served on full duty, but who become temporarily or indefinitely unable to do so. Hundreds of officers serve on limited duty, some for years, with a variety of limitations including heart disease and artificial hips and knees. But wheelchairs and other visible devices are strictly prohibited.
"The Chicago Police Department's policy is clearly discriminatory," says Karen I. Ward, Equip for Equality's Senior Counsel and Cataldo's attorney. "Our client can perform a variety of useful jobs, but the department refuses to let him solely because he uses a wheelchair."
"I am pleased that the Judge has removed this unfair obstacle preventing me from returning to work," says Cataldo. "I have no doubt that there is a place for me in the Chicago Police Department where I can continue to make a valuable contribution."
Equip for Equality previously challenged the police department's policy banning assistive devices on behalf of another police officer in Richard B. Clark v. City of Chicago. In June, the case settled on the eve of trial for $337,500, but did not result in a change of department policy.
"We are committed to the elimination of this discriminatory policy so that our client and other officers who use assistive devices can continue to serve as police officers," says Barry C. Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director for Equip for Equality. "We want to change the system permanently to enforce the rights of people with disabilities."
Reference Joseph C. Cataldo v. City of Chicago, No. 01C665.
For more information contact Barry Taylor or Karen Ward at 312/341-0022 or TTY 800/610-2779.