Federal Court Case Deals With Employment Discrimination Based on Hearing Loss

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Federal Court Case Deals With Employment Discrimination Based on Hearing Loss

Mon, 05/19/2008

Law Enforcement Officer, A Hearing Aid User, Fired from His Job

A federal judge in Columbus, Georgia ruled that it was lawful to fire a man from his job as a court security guard because he could not pass a hearing test without the use of hearing aids.  The employee, Wilbur Allmond has appealed the decision.  If it is upheld, the decision could affect the status of people with hearing loss working in law enforcement positions across the country. 

Wilbur Allmond was a 55 year old law enforcement officer with 36 years of experience when he applied for a position as a Court Security Officer at the federal courthouse in Columbus, Georgia.  He was hired subject to passing a medical examination.  This examination included a hearing test that had to be passed without the use of hearing aids, although hearing aids could be used on the job.  Mr. Allmond did poorly on the hearing test.  Nevertheless, he was permitted to begin work while he consulted a physician and an audiologist.  The U.S. Marshal’s Service, responsible for courthouse security, reviewed the results of his medical reports, determined that he was medically unqualified for the job, but allowed him to continue to work. 

After he had been working successfully for 10 months, Mr. Allmond was required to take a routine annual fitness examination that included the same hearing test, without the use of hearing aids.  After the test showed the same poor results, Mr. Allmond was fired as being medically unqualified.  He sued alleging discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  He argued that the requirement to take a hearing test without using hearing aids screened out qualified people with disabilities. 

A major issue is whether hearing loss qualifies as a disability under the law.  Judge Hugh Lawson explained that a determination of disability is made on a case-by-case basis, and Mr. Allmond had enough evidence to prove that he was disabled and that he was otherwise qualified to perform the work of a security officer. 

Judge Lawson, however, concluded that when the health and safety of the public is involved, discrimination on the basis of disability may be permitted.  He ruled that requiring security guards to pass hearing tests without using hearing aids was job-related and necessary for this type of work. 

The HLAA joined an amicus (friend of the court) brief submitted by AARP supporting reversal of the decision.  This brief is pending consideration by the court.  It was pointed out that evidence about current hearing aid technology was not considered.  Furthermore, there is no evidence that court security officers’ use of hearing aids in the past has posed any safety risks.  Testing people while using hearing aids would deal with possible risks.  The testing requirement reflects false stereotypes about hearing aid users in general and specifically those in safety-related jobs.  A decision on the appeal is not expected for several months. 

For more information, contact the HLAA Director of Public Policy.