Court says police wrongfully relegates disabled officers

The Associated Press
Saturday August 18, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO — The San Jose Police Department has relegated its disabled officers to “unsatisfactory jobs” in which they have “little or no possibility for promotion,” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, an appeals court ruled Friday. 

The three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in its unanimous ruling, reversed a lower court decision, which dismissed a suit filed by six current and former officers who said they were banished to degrading jobs and denied promotions because of their disabilities. 

The officers suffered neck and back injuries while on duty, said Frank Jelinch, lawyer for four of the officers.  

Only one remains on the force; all are seeking unspecified damages. 

“They were really treated as second-class citizens and called names. They had to live in that environment. It took exceptional courage to come forward and complain,” Jelinch said.  

“They say, ‘Now you’ve been injured so you’re not of the same value to us as you were before.”’ 


Under an agreement between the department and the police union, 30 positions have been designated “modified duty” and are the only jobs available to disabled officers. 

Some officers claimed they made coffee, ran errands or worked in office space that also functioned as a supply room. Able-bodied officers harassed them, pushed them around and called them names like “lame,” “faker” or “whiner.” 

The disabled officers said they worked the worst shifts and were given the least desirable days off. They also were denied promotional opportunities, according to the suit. 

“Our position is that we have accommodated every officer who cannot work patrol ... in meaningful positions,” said Clifford Greenberg, the department’s lawyer. “We take great issue with the court’s saying it’s undesirable.” 

Greenberg said it’s likely he will go to trial rather than ask the court for a rehearing. 

The appeals court said, under the ADA, disabled officers should be allowed to consider and accept any positions for which they’re qualified. And officers should be considered qualified as long as they “can perform the essential functions” of the job. 

”(The ADA) requires every type of employer find ways to bring the disabled into its ranks, even when doing so imposes some costs and burdens,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the court. “The City of San Jose’s police department must participate in this process, as long as they can do so in a manner that will not compromise public safety.”