Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Moment of truth

I work for a disability rights organization in Chicago, Illinois. The organization has a civil rights team that defends against systemic and individual cases discrimination on the basis of disability. Working alongside the civil rights team, I've always hoped for a case that dealt specifically with discrimination based specifically on dwarfism. As far as I know, and according to the attorneys I've asked, no such examples exist in case law. I've always hoped for a case, not because I wish discrimination upon anyone, but because the entire dwarfism community could use the case in the future as a tool to defend against discrimination. From what anecdotal evidence I have, there is standing for a discrimination case. I heard a story once of two sisters who visited a large big box store. The store had posted a hiring notice. One sister, who is a person of short stature, asked for an application at customer service. She was told the hiring notice was no applicable. Each position had been filled. The woman of short stature tracked down her sister and told her what had happened. The other sister, not a person of short stature, while her sister waited out of view, approached the customer service desk and asked for an application. She also was not given an application but was offered a job on the stop. More recently, I read an email about a woman of short stature at a large amusement park in Florida. Now almost every dwarf who is a roller coaster enthusiast has experienced the disappointment of being denied entry on a ride because of height restrictions. In fact, one friend of mine wears lifts when he visits amusement parks. In the email I read, the woman detailed an embarrassing experience of waiting in line, finding a seat, then being asked to get off the ride. Off the ride, the operator measured her. She passed the height test then returned to the ride. A bit later, as everyone was waiting for the ride to begin, a manager appeared, who told the person of short stature she was not allowed to ride.

I am not an expert, but both cases above appear to be examples of people with dwarfism experiencing very different, and negative, treatment, based solely upon disability. If there were a piece of case law related to discrimination based upon dwarfism, people who experience situations similar to those above might have more incentive to respond to or file complaints against the offending parties.

A few weeks ago, what I have been hoping for, may have happened. I heard a story of a young woman named Lydia Aparicio who has filed a complaint against a trade school in California
(Contra Costa Times). According to the complaint, Aparicio, who was enrolled in some kind of medical assistant program, was forced to drop out of the program. She was told "her stature would preclude her from the ability to succeed in the program." If this is true, not only is the school guilty of discrimination, the school is wrong. There are at least three successful doctors who are members of Little People of America. Stature is not an impediment to the field of medicine.

I am happy a little person will have her day in court, but the cliche "be careful what you wish for" applies here. Aparicio's case has been filed by an attorney named Gloria Allred, who has previously litigated cases that involve high profile celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Aaron Spelling and Tiger Woods. On one end of the spectrum, Allred is known as a civil rights attorney protecting marginalized individuals. At worst, she been accused of "ambulance chasing" and opportunism. There is a risk here that the profile of the attorney will overshadow the issues of discrimination.

Also, there is the danger that discrimination can not be proven. The school is denying the allegations, claiming Aparicio was dropped from the program solely because she didn't fulfill academic standards. If discrimination can't be proven, it won't preclude other people of short stature to litigate in the future, but it also won't provide precedent that I believe will be very valuable in the future. Though I don't wish discrimination upon anyone, if Aparicio was forced to endure it, I wish her all the best in the legal process.

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