New York State Maintains Discriminatory Bar to Employment for Those with Less Than 20/40 Vision

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Disability Rights Advocates challenges the State’s irrational, blanket disqualification of workers based on disability, seeks to bring hiring standards into compliance with the law

June 10, 2020 – New York, NY – Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center, filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the State of New York and several of its agencies. The Charge challenges the State’s bright-line rule disqualifying anyone with binocular vision lower than 20/40 from being hired as a Mental Health Therapy Aide Trainee (MHTAT), a State Office of Mental Health position that supports people with mental illness. The policy bears virtually no connection to the position’s duties, and excludes qualified candidates based on disability without considering if they can actually do the job, in violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law. Read the Charge of Discrimination.

In Spring 2019, Matthew Herrera applied to be a Spanish Language MHTAT at a mental health clinic in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, but after interviewing and receiving a preliminary offer, he took an eye test and was abruptly disqualified, simply because, at 20/60, his sight falls just below the State’s 20/40 standard. For over seven years, Mr. Herrera had already been doing very similar mental health and security-related work, so the MHTAT position had seemed like a great fit. Yet the State locked Mr. Herrera out of the opportunity without regard for his actual skills or experience, and without meaningfully evaluating his particular visual functioning.

Matthew Herrera explained, “The State told me I wouldn’t be able to perform on the job because of my eyesight. But I have worked for a long time doing the very things they claim I wouldn’t be able to do. I know I can serve patients and the public safely, and so can other people with vision lower than 20/40. It’s important to me to fight this biased policy so when we apply for jobs, we are judged by our abilities.”

A bright-line qualification standard that screens out a whole class of individuals with disabilities violates the law when, like this one, it is not properly related to the job or consistent with business necessity.

“The State mistakenly implies that anyone with less than 20/40 vision is an automatic danger to people around them, but it is the State’s misguided assumptions about people with disabilities that endanger the livelihoods of New York job seekers,” said Chloe Holzman, a Staff Attorney at DRA. “Just as Mr. Herrera has proved himself in similar jobs, he deserves the chance to excel as an MHTAT.”

DRA aims to ensure that the State brings its hiring standards into line with the ADA and New York State Human Rights Law so every job applicant with a disability can have a fair shot at State employment.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org.

Contacts

Chloe Holzman
(332) 217-2357
cholzman@dralegal.org