In a remarkable advance for persons with disabilities, Justin Slaby won his discrimination lawsuit against the FBI. The jury returned a verdict awarding Mr. Slaby $75,000 in compensatory (emotional suffering) damages. Because the government is the defendant, punitive damages are not available. The court will determine the details regarding whether Mr. Slaby should be reinstated to the FBI Academy, lost pay, and such at a subsequent hearing. See Washington Post news report. I previously wrote about this lawsuit here.
The important lesson for employers is to document the truly "essential" job functions. Too many employers leave open what are truly essential functions of a job. In this case, there was some evidence that the FBI fabricated the supposed requirement that all Special Agents be able to fire with their non-dominant hand. This result should serve as a warning to employers who "cook up" such new job requirements.
The FBI fought this case very hard. When I looked at the docket sheet a week or so ago, it was perhaps three times longer than the average federal lawsuit. The employer filed very many motions and contested many, many issues. If some lawsuits are frivolous, then many defenses are also very frivolous. So, now, the attorney’s fee request by the employee will also be very large. With three plaintiff lawyers doing a great deal of research and dealing with unnecessary work by the defense, I would expect the attorney fee request to double or triple the $75,000 awarded to the plaintiff.
The lesson I hope we all take from this is that persons with disabilities should be assessed based on their abilities, not on some stereotype. The former Army Ranger deserved much better than what he got.
And, for all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans out there, Hooah!