Modern warfare has seen improvements to body armor and battlefield medicine with the result that soldiers are surviving injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan that would have proven fatal in earlier wars. These soldiers are returning to the U.S. and to an economy that is still weak as compared to a decade ago. Veterans' jobs are protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act. The Act applies to service members who leave their civilian jobs for military services; they know their job will be protected while they are away, and they will return to the same pay, benefits and status.
While the USERRA protects service members who were employed prior to being deployed, some of the brave men and women who have been injured while serving their country face disability discrimination when they return from a tour of duty to begin their job search. Recently, a 30-year-old service member who lost a hand in a military training exercise won a discrimination suit against the FBI after he was asked to leave six weeks into a 21-week training session.
The injury at the center of the suit
The Army Ranger who brought the suit served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan according to National Public Radio. While preparing for a fourth tour at a base in Georgia in 2004, a grenade which the soldier was holding detonated prematurely. Although he lost his left hand, he was fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthetic. One of the doctors suggested that he seek a career in the FBI.
He passed the FBI's fitness-for-duty examination in 2010 and was hired as a special agent. Within weeks of arriving at Quantico for training, he felt that the trainers were unhappy with his presence. The Washington Post reported that he was told he had to be able to fire a gun with his prosthetic hand, as well as his unharmed hand, although other trainees were not required to fire a weapon with their non-dominant hands. When his trainers told him to leave the program after six weeks, he hired an attorney to fight his dismissal and brought suit in federal court.
On August 7, a jury ruled in favor of the former Ranger. The jury awarded him $75,000 in pain and suffering, and he will receive back pay in the amount of the difference between what he would have earned as a special agent and what he earned in his support job for the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. There has not been a determination to whether he will be reinstated as a special agent due to budget cuts (sequestration).
Elements of a disability discrimination case in New Jersey
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination protects individuals with disabilities in the workplace. To prevail in a lawsuit against an employer who has failed to hire or promote an individual because of disability, the plaintiff must prove the following:
- The plaintiff is disabled
- The plaintiff applied for and was qualified for a position for which the defendant employer was seeking applicants
- The plaintiff was denied the job or promotion despite adequate qualifications
- The plaintiff was not hired or promoted under circumstances that would give rise to an inference of discrimination
This is not the only means of proving discrimination. If the employer has failed to accommodate the plaintiff's disability, the plaintiff must prove different elements.
If you feel that your employer has discriminated against you based on a disability, you should contact an attorney to discuss your circumstances. You have rights under the law.