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Minnesota war veteran sues for disability discrimination

An Army veteran, who served two tours in Iraq, has filed a lawsuit against the city of Rochester and the Rochester Police Civil Service Commission alleging disability discrimination. The suit states that the police department violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act when he was fired because of his impaired hearing and speech.

The Minnesota Human Rights Act defines a disability as:

• A physical, sensory (for example, blindness or deafness) or mental impairment; and

• This impairment "materially interferes" or gets in the way of a major life activity, or

• The person has a record of this type of impairment or

• The person is recognized as having this type of impairment

Under this act, it is illegal to discriminate against someone with a disability in a protected area, such as employment.

The veteran suffered hearing loss from multiple explosions of improvised explosive devices or IEDs during his service in Iraq. The man, who is also the son of the Rochester chief of police, began working for the police department as a community services officer in 2008. That position allowed him to issue citations but have no arrest powers.

The vet was promoted to a police officer position in March 2011 but four months later he was told he was not meeting the probationary period requirements and they were recommending termination. In his lawsuit, the veteran states that when he was promoted, the police department told him he would be able to return to the community service officer position if he was not able to meet the requirements for police officer.

The man filed a request to be reinstated to the community service officer spot with the Civil Service Commission, which held a hearing in August 2011. At that hearing, the vet learned two members of the commission previously met with a police sergeant that opposed the reinstatement, which appears to be a violation of Minnesota's open meeting law. The commission took no action, deciding it did not need to respond to the reinstatement request.

He was finally terminated in November, which the vet states is wrongful termination because of his disability and that the city was denying employment opportunities when it failed to reinstate him to the services officer position. The man is seeking more than $50,000 in damages, as well as attorneys' fees. The city's answer to the lawsuit is pending.

Source: Post-Bulletin, "Police chief's son sues city, commissioners," Matt Russell, August 13, 2012

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