Almost two years ago, May, 2008, we posted news regarding the case of Wilbur Allmond. Mr. Allmond worked as a Court Security Officer (CSO) in a federal courthouse in Georgia. He had a long and exemplary local law enforcement career, as well as almost a year working successfully as a CSO. As part of the process of becoming a CSO, he was required to take a hearing test – but without the benefit of his hearing aids.
The US Marshals Service (USMS) had a history of allowing testing of employees with their hearing aids on. However, in 2001, the USMS changed policy, banning the use of aids during a hearing test. In 2005, Mr. Allmond initiated a disability rights employment discrimination lawsuit. Attorneys working on the case uncovered no history or evidence that CSO’s who wore hearing aids had any particular problems using those hearing aids on the job, and in fact Mr. Allmond himself worked successfully as a CSO with his hearing aids for 10 months before being dismissed. It appeared the new rule was based on the possibility that something might go wrong, rather than hard evidence. Mr. Allmond argued that the requirement to take a hearing test without using hearing aids screened out qualified people with disabilities.
The case presented a critical issue of concern: whether a person with a disability could be denied employment based on the speculation that their medical condition could at some future point pose a safety risk.
HLAA joined an amicus (friend of the court) brief submitted by AARP supporting reversal of the decision. We also worked with other disability advocates to petition the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to review their policy. The HLAA Board of Trustees posted our position paper on job qualification testing on our website.
The trial court granted summary judgment against Mr. Allmond. Mr. Allmond appealed the decision, but did not win on appeal. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
It looked grim for Mr. Allmond and others who had the skills and experience needed for the job, and were able to pass a hearing test with hearing aids, but not without them. HLAA has heard from others employed by USMS who have also been adversely affected by this policy change.
It appears all the work we’ve done with the help of other disability organizations has paid off. We are happy to report that on April 2 the United States Marshals Service changed its hearing standards to allow Court Security Officers to be qualified for duty if they pass hearing test and those who use hearing aids will be tested while using their hearing aids. That’s great news for those who can now seek employment and hold onto their jobs as a result of this change.
But this story is not over yet. We have learned from employees in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that their agency also is requiring hearing testing without the benefit of hearing aids. We will continue to press for all federal agencies, state and local government and even private companies that can show a need for hearing testing to put policy in place that will allow for testing of individuals who use hearing aids to wear them while being tested. We look forward to the time when this kind of rule is simply taken for granted.