On the eve of trial, the New York Police Department settled a four-year-old lawsuit challenging its blanket prohibition on allowing deaf and hard of hearing officers to operate in the field with the assistance of hearing aids.
The settlement, reached March 9, requires the NYPD to evaluate officers on a case-by-case basis, to determine whether officers using hearing aids can perform the essential functions of the job. The NYPD must complete the reevaluation within six months.
The NYPD must also reinstate two officers, James Phillips and Daniel Carione, who were forced into early retirement upon the onset of hearing loss.
“The perseverance of these two men has paved the way for a hearing aid policy at NYPD that takes into account the performance of the individual, without a preconceived notion of what it means to have hearing aids,” said Anna Gilmore Hall, executive director of Hearing Loss Association of America, in a news release.
The Law Offices of Meenan and Associates filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2011, on the basis that the policy violated both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York Human Rights Law. Disability Rights Advocates joined the plaintiff in the litigation and the Hearing Loss Association of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Veterans United for Truth filed an amicus brief on their behalf.
Phillips previously served with the NYPD from 1991 to 2010, reaching the rank of lieutenant. He was forced into early retirement due to hearing loss that formed as a result of exposure to loud whistles in 2008. Despite performing his regular duties for a year with the hearing aid and receiving considerable praise for his leadership skills, the NYPD medical division recommended Phillips for early retirement due to his disability.
Carione previously served with the NYPD from 1989 to 2009, when he was forced into early retirement a year after he was promoted to deputy inspector. He first began developing hearing loss in 1996, when he was involved in an incident where his partner shot 5 gun rounds approximately 18 inches from his ear.
Neither officer was provided an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to perform their assigned duties with the use of hearing aids.
“The settlement provides an opportunity for me to return to the profession and the Department (NYPD) I so dearly love,” Carione said in a news release, “But much more importantly it opens wide the door of opportunity to millions of hearing-disabled Americans. Most notable are our returning war veterans, a great many of which have received combat induced hearing loss requiring the use of hearing aids.
“Many of these brave men and women are deserving of the opportunity to demonstrate they are willing, able, and otherwise capable of performing the essential duties of Police officer with the use of hearing aids.”