FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14, 1994

CR (202) 616-2765 TDD (202) 514-1888

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SUES MICHIGAN FIRE DEPARTMENT FOR REFUSING TO HIRE SEASONED FIREFIGHTER WITH A DISABILITY WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the first Justice Department suit alleging employment discrimination against an individual with a disability, the Justice Department today sued a Michigan fire department for refusing to hire a seasoned firefighter with 15 years experience who has been blind in one eye since childhood. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges the city of Pontiac violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to hire Dennis Henderson because of his unrelated disability. The complaint asserted that Henderson, who has over 15 years of firefighting experience, has been able to perform the essential functions of the position despite his disability. "This nation does not have a single person to waste," said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Deval L. Patrick. "When we deny jobs to qualified persons because of unrelated disabilities, we deny opportunity to everyone." In April 1991, Henderson applied for the Pontiac firefighter position. His performance on the written, physical and oral exams, placed him seventh among 107 applicants. In a previous job that he held since 1978 with the Wixom, Michigan fire department, Henderson received several promotions and eventually served as lieutenant, despite his disability. He met the state's minimum requirements for a full-time firefighter, is licensed as an emergency medical technician, passed the state's basic training course and several advanced courses, and attended over thirty other training courses and seminars. Before being hired, Henderson took a pre-employment physical examination in July 1992, at which time the city discovered the problem with his vision. Even though his disability never affected his firefighting performance in the past, the city felt Henderson could not be hired because of his vision. Henderson filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing Pontiac of discriminating against him because of his disability. In March 1994, the EEOC referred the case to the Justice Department after determining there was reasonable cause to believe the city had discriminated in violation of the ADA. Following its own investigation, the Justice Department informed the city of its violation and attempted to resolve the dispute through negotiations. Last Friday, negotiations broke down. "We are committed to ensuring that the American workplace is free of discrimination and that all qualified individuals are considered for employment opportunities regardless of disability," added Patrick. The complaint seeks a court order requiring the city to hire Henderson with retroactive seniority, pension and related benefits and compensate him for any losses. Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by state or local governments, as well as private entities. While the EEOC handles all individual cases of

discrimination, it refers to the Justice Department for litigation those unsettled cases alleging individual discrimination by a government. This is the first suit stemming from a referral. In December 1993, the Justice Department brought its first case alleging a pattern of discrimination by a government when it sued Aurora, Illinois, for denying benefits to police officers with pre-existing disabilities. # # # 94-700