“Jury Finds In Favor Of EEOC That One-Armed Security Guard Was Fired Because Of His Disability.”  Wow, that’s quite a headline, isn’t it?  A real eye-catcher.  But that was the caption for a recent press release from the EEOC.

In this case, a one-armed man applied for a job as an “unarmed security guard” with a security services company.  (OK, the irony just kills me!)  He had a prosthetic arm that the hiring managers assumed was functional.  He was assigned to patrol a residential community, and was told to call the police if he observed anything suspicious.  The employee understood that there may be times when he had to follow or confront someone suspicious, and may even have been required to physically detain them.

The employee conducted his first shift at the residential community without wearing the prosthetic.  The president of the residential community called the security company and complained that the company “was a joke for sending them a one (1) arm Security Officer.”  The Company President then called the employee, who informed him that the prosthetic was just cosmetic.  At that point, the Company President decided the employee could not perform the job duties for the residential community, and the Company could not place him in any other position.  So the employee was effectively terminated.

The employee filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and the EEOC then brought suit against the security company on his behalf.  A jury found that the security company had discriminated against the employee because of his missing arm, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In order to be protected by the ADA, an individual with a disability must be able to perform the essential functions of his job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.  Therefore, the jury must have concluded that the employee was capable of performing the essential job functions – but what those functions were is not clear from the press release, nor is it clear how he would have accomplished them.  (Earlier in the case, the EEOC argued that he could have detained suspects by asking them to wait for the police to arrive (?!!!) or spraying them with pepper spray.  Uh huh.).

The EEOC argued at trial that the company had relied on “discriminatory customer preferences and stereotypes about what individual with disabilities can and cannot do” in violation of the ADA.  Well, I guess I would have violated the ADA as well, since I do think two working arms is pretty essential for a security guard!  Even an unarmed one.