Friday, April 18, 2003

Deaf woman gets her day in court


Company rescinded job offer based on her disability

By Sharon Turco
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Janet McBride is a 36-year-old mother of two who had no problem caring for her children or her own aging grandmother - even though she is deaf.

But after getting an offer in January 2000 to earn $8 an hour helping residents of a retirement home with basic life chores, an administrator rescinded the job offer out of concern that McBride wouldn't be able to handle an emergency.

Now, McBride's lawsuit against Cottingham Retirement Community alleging a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act has made it to U.S. District Court. Experts say the case could have far-reaching impact for deaf people nationwide.

"It's not unusual for deaf people to be denied their rights," said Eleanor M. Stromberg, executive director of the Hearing Speech and Deaf Center of Greater Cincinnati. "To see a trial like this is rare."

McBride, who can read lips and needed no special assistance in the courtroom, broke down in tears Thursday when talking about how proud she was to get the job, and the devastation she felt when administrators later said they feared she might not hear a resident fall or call for help.

"It made me feel like I was nothing," McBride said.

McBride has been deaf since she was 3 years old, when she had scarlet fever.

The case goes back to 2000, when McBride applied to be a resident assistant at Cottingham in Sharonville. A resident assistant works on one or two floors helping residents with their baths, opening medicine bottles and other routine chores.

The married mother of two had recently finished caring for her elderly grandmother when her niece, who worked at Cottingham, told her about the opening. It was a job she knew she would enjoy.

The job paid $8 an hour, money that would come in handy with a 17-year-old daughter and young son at home.

Other then a job cleaning hotel rooms in high school, McBride had never worked before. But previous experience was not a requirement for the Cottingham job.

McBride says the job was withdrawn because management vetoed the hiring based on her disability, even though they had never met her.

"I did have concerns about her ability to communicate with residents during an emergency, like a fire. (She would have) to let residents know what they needed to do," said Shelly Owens, the facility administrator at the time, during her testimony.

McBride first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found probable cause that Cottingham had violated the law. She then filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

"This is about principle, not money," said McBride's attorney, Randolph Freking. "She doesn't want this to happen to anyone else."

Cottingham officials have maintained they were within their rights to reject McBride. The trial is expected to resume Monday.

E-mail sturco@enquirer.com




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