Two retired New York City police officers have filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging that they have been discriminated against over their use of hearing aids to perform their work.
Attorney Colleen Meenan of Meenan & Associates, LLC, who represents the officers, said the New York Police Department (NYPD) disclosed a policy in January 20009 that officers on the force should have the same hearing capacity they did when they were hired.
According to Meenan, the two officers who filed the complaint – Daniel Carione and Jim Phillips – were forced to retire from the NYPD based on hearing loss that they experienced on the job.
“They brought a claim that they’re being discriminated against because of hearing loss and they were not tested with hearing aids and not told about hearing aids,” Meenan said.
David Gayle, a volunteer legal counsel at the Hearing Loss Association of America, said it is discriminatory to block applicants to the police force based on hearing loss.
“Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as applied by the U.S. Department of Justice, otherwise qualified applicants for local and state police officer jobs have the right to an individual assessment including taking hearing tests with hearing aids,” Gayle said.
Paul Browne, a spokesperson for the NYPD said, “The department is not actively looking to see if people have hearing aids. But presumably if someone came forward and said, ‘I need a hearing aid,’ and it indicates that your hearing is diminished, then that could lead to a disability retirement.”
“The department has not publicized its ban on hearing aids for active officers,” Browne added.
A medical assessment policy published by Governor Andrew Cuomo requires the NYPD to conduct “a case-by-case assessment of each candidate to determine if the candidate is able to perform the essential functions of the position” regarding ‘ears and hearing.’ That document is published online under the title ‘Medical and Physical Fitness Standards and Procedures for Police Officer Candidates.’
Brenda Battat, executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America said, “Hearing loss is a health issue that has long been misunderstood and stigmatized in our society. Banning the use of hearing aids that help police officers to function at their best is inconceivable and perpetuates the myths and stereotypes that are still prevalent about hearing loss today.”
Battat said the retirement of officers who have sought treatment for hearing loss endangers the public’s safety.
“Barring young police officers from using the excellent hearing aids available today and forcing older police officers with hearing aids to retire is discriminating. As long as they can pass the hearing test with their hearing aids in, they should be allowed to use them on the job,” Battat said in an email.
The New York Times first reported the complaint in June. The EEOC case is pending.
This article was published in the August 2011 issue of Able News.