Don’t Accept the Agency’s Reason for Not Hiring You

A lot of people learn that they didn’t pass the physical or some other medical examination when after receiving a conditional offer for a federal job. That’s actually a red flag that disability discrimination might be at work.

The Nathan case – the FBI rejects an applicant because of monocular vision.

Take the case of Jeremy Nathan, an applicant for the FBI as a “special agent,” what we probably just think of as an FBI agent. He had a resume that was extremely impressive. West Point, years in the military serving overseas including combat operations, then on to law school and eventually earning a JD-MBA degree. He applied to join the FBI and was given a conditional acceptance as an FBI agent.

Then the FBI found out he had monocular (single-eyed) vision. It rescinded the offer, claiming it made an “individualized assessment” of his abilities. Nathan filed a complaint under the ADA, alleging discrimination in response.

The EEOC Requires individualized assessments actually be ‘individualized,’ not just based on assumptions

The EEOC, in a 2013 decision, held that the FBI discriminated against Nathan. The ‘individualized assessment’ was required under the ADA, but the FBI didn’t actually do one. When a law enforcement agency has a safety-related requirement, the agency has to ask a number of questions about the individual’s capacity to perform the essential functions of the job, including whether the individual has a way of working around any potential disabilities.

The lesson is that the FBI and other federal agencies can’t refuse to hire an individual simply because it thinks he has a disabling condition. The FBI claimed that being monocular meant Nathan couldn’t operate a gun safely. The EEOC pointed out that no one ever asked him how he did this in four years in the army, including combat operations. Failing to ask questions like that mean that the agency is unlawfully excluding qualified people with disabilities from employment.

Many employers are themselves myopic when it comes to disabilities. They see a disability and assume that people don’t adapt. Such assumptions about people’s abilities are dangerous and frequently unlawful.