Colorblindness axes fire job Volunteer can't get hired as pro in Anne Arundel.

June 24, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

Being colorblind, figuratively, is an antidote to prejudice.

But James F. Tucker says that being colorblind has literally made him a victim of discrimination.

A diagnosis of colorblindness is all that stands between Mr. Tucker, a 26-year-old Edgewater truck driver, and his longtime goal of becoming a professional firefighter.

Mr. Tucker passed Anne Arundel County's written and oral firefighter tests. But he failed a vision test by not being able to distinguish the colors green and red, and was rejected.

Then the Maryland Human Relations Commission saw red. Arguing that the county hasn't fairly measured Mr. Tucker's ability to be a firefighter, the panel filed an employment discrimination complaint against the Anne Arundel County Fire Department and Office of Personnel. After two years of legal wrangling with no prospect of settlement, the commission has brought the charge before an administrative law judge.

Mr. Tucker was a volunteer with the Avalon Shores Fire Company and a trained emergency medical technician for nearly five years. Now he is a state-licensed driver of trucks that carry hazardous materials.

"It was kind of a disappointment when I found out, a big letdown," he said. "It was OK to do the same exact job as a volunteer, but when it came to being paid, I wasn't qualified."

The Human Relations Commission is asking Anne Arundel County not only to hire Mr. Tucker, but grant him back pay and interest to September 1990, and to revise its color-vision testing to include an "individualized assessment" of an applicant's ability to do a job.

Lee D. Hoshall, a commission lawyer, said that under laws protecting the handicapped, Anne Arundel County must "prove there is a reasonable probability" that Mr. Tucker's partial colorblindness would pose a hazard to public safety.

But Gail Watson, an assistant Anne Arundel County attorney, said, "There's really no way you can simulate the medical emergencies that are dealt with" by firefighters," she said.

"It's not a job where, if you do things right 90 percent of the time, that's acceptable. If you make a mistake 1 percent of the time, that can mean a life," she said.

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