City to rehire blind fireman it ordered into retirement Man charged discrimination after he went blind and was forced out of job.

December 06, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

A former firefighter who was forced to retire after losing his eyesight will be rehired by the city within two weeks as a result of a legal settlement.

The Board of Estimates on Wednesday agreed to settle a handicap discrimination lawsuit brought by Henry John Jones 3rd, who was forced into retirement in 1986.

Under the settlement, the city is to pay Jones $108,000 and rehire him in a "meaningful" capacity, probably as a dispatcher in the Fire Department, according to a statement released by his attorneys, Daniel F. Goldstein and Andrew D. Freeman.

Jones, 39, was named Fireman of the Year and Baltimore's Best Firefighter in 1983.

He went blind in 1986 from Leber's optic neuropathy, a rare genetic disorder that his lawyers said could have been triggered by the smoke he encountered fighting fires.

After losing his eyesight, Jones was ordered to retire from the department. He received a disability allowance of about $6,000 a year.

Jones wanted to continue working, however.

In 1987, he tried out for a job as dispatcher but was not allowed to touch any of the equipment and was denied the job, the statement said.

In 1989, he interviewed for the job but again was not hired.

Jones filed suit in federal court in November 1989. He charged that the Fire Department illegally discriminated against him when it refused to hire him as a dispatcher.

Federal law requires employers to make a "reasonable accommodation" for their employees' handicaps.

And, Jones maintained, he could have been a dispatcher or performed other jobs in the Fire Department with the aid of "adaptive technology."

The suit had been scheduled to go to trial this week, but the settlement led to the case being dismissed.

"I feel vindicated," Jones said through his lawyers. "Now, I'll get a chance to prove what I've known all along, that being blind won't stop me from making a useful contribution to the Fire Department."

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