Monday, January 19, 2009

Bergstein & Ullrich prevail in disability discrimination case

Jury says Newburgh kept blind man from having job: worker awarded nearly $200,000

By Doyle Murphy
Times Herald-Record
January 18, 2009

CITY OF NEWBURGH — The city must pay nearly $200,000 to a worker who was fired after he said he couldn't see well enough to ride a garbage truck.

George Hursey of Maybrook sued the city in federal court after he lost his job with the Department of Public Works. He'd cleaned the police department for about three and half years but switched to the garbage truck in 2005 when the city fired him from his cleaning job.

Hursey, now 60, was born with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye condition that makes it hard for him to see at night and cuts his peripheral vision. The condition has gotten worse as Hursey has gotten older. He was declared legally blind in 2003 but can still drive in the daylight.

The shifts on the garbage truck started at 4 a.m. In court papers, Hursey said he couldn't see in the early morning dark and couldn't get on and off the truck without stumbling. His doctor wrote a letter that Hursey gave to his supervisor, George Garrison, that supported his claims.

The city put him on sick leave and eventually fired him because it said there were no other jobs where he could work safely. Hursey's attorneys, Stephen Bergstein and Helen Ullrich of Chester, argued the city could have put him in a general laborer's job that opened up about the same time, but the city never told him about the job and hired someone else.

A federal jury agreed with Hursey's attorneys that the city had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. Bergstein said Hursey could have continued to work for the city had it made minor accommodations as required by the law.

"There was room for him," Bergstein said, "but the city really didn't make an effort."
He said Hursey wanted to work and has since taken a job at a ShopRite doing tasks similar to what he would have done as a general laborer for the city.

The jury found Hursey was honestly disabled but still could have done the general laborer job had the city made slight adjustments to account for his disability. The city didn't make a legitimate effort to accommodate him, the jury concluded.

In a decision delivered Friday night in White Plains, it awarded Hursey $195,763. The majority of the award is for back pay and future wages lost with $10,000 for pain and suffering.
Bergstein said his client would have liked to have continued working for the city, but he was happy with the outcome.

"He's not a man of means," Bergstein said. "He was delighted. He was just delighted."

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