The issue: Should the use of hearing aids prevent older workers from holding courthouse security jobs?
After a long and successful law enforcement career, Gene Allmond lost his job as a federal court security officer six years ago when he failed a hearing test and his bosses feared the hearing aid he needed might fail or fall out.
“I was devastated by being dismissed,” said Allmond, now 62 and police chief in Hamilton, Ga. “I’d never been fired from anything in my entire life.” So he challenged the U.S. Marshals Service regulation that required he pass a hearing test without the help of a hearing aid. Two federal courts ruled against him, and in January the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his case.
“This situation defies common sense,” said Dan Kohrman, a senior attorney with the AARP Foundation, which filed friend of the court briefs on behalf of Allmond. “It is akin to allowing people to use eyeglasses at work, but requiring them to remove the same glasses to pass an eye exam to qualify for the job.”
Both courts held that the Marshals Service has the right to set up business rules requiring hearing tests without aids, a regulation that Kohrman says has cost at least 80 court officers their jobs. Allmond, who is a veteran police officer, worked for 10 months as a federal court security officer in Columbus, Ga., until February 2004, when he got the pink slip saying that he was “medically disqualified.” About 30 million Americans have impaired hearing, a condition that increases with age: One-third of them are 45 to 64, and another third are 65-plus.
But there’s a happy ending. Despite the courts’ decisions, the Marshals Service had second thoughts and early in April reversed its requirements and will allow job seekers who use hearing aids to use them during hearing tests. After Allmond’s six-year legal battle, that’s a big deal. “I’m glad for anyone else it might affect, that other people might not have the rug pulled out from under them.”
What it means to you: Anyone victimized by policies that may violate the Americans With Disabilities Act has the option of going to court. But also try convincing the employer directly that the policy should be changed.
Emily Sachar is a journalist and author based in Brooklyn, N.Y.