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Monday, May 02, 2005

Don't Mess with Deaf Texans... 

It is always disheartening to read about discrimination or harrassment upon my fellow Deafies. This one below is no different. I got the following article from Deaf Network of Texas:

Deaf man says he was mistreated
By Domingo Ramirez Jr.
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

April 30, 2005

On some days, co-workers at the Albertsons Distribution Center in Fort Worth hurled cans of food and bottles of bleach at William Monteleone, a lawsuit claims.

A supervisor sometimes cupped his hand behind his ear, feigning deafness, and yelled directly into Monteleone's face, the lawsuit says.

And routinely, it claims, a co-worker on a forklift would gun the engine and drive the machine to a screeching halt near the 39-year-old Flower Mound worker.

The claims of taunts and teasing were outlined in a federal disability discrimination lawsuit that Monteleone -- who is deaf -- filed last week in Fort Worth.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages against Albertsons and employee Charles Davis.

"We really hope that this litigation will improve the workplace not just for him, but for other workers who are deaf or hard of hearing," said Karen Fitzgerald of Dallas, one of Monteleone's attorneys.

Albertsons officials have denied Monteleone's claims, court records show. They declined to comment further about the case, as did Davis, who is identified in the lawsuit as the forklift driver.

"Because it's still under pending litigation, we can't comment," said John McChristian Jr. of Fort Worth, an attorney for Albertsons.

Monteleone, 39, also declined to comment further.

The lawsuit will be watched closely by advocates for people with disabilities. About 700,000 people in Texas have hearing impairments, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures.

"It's still common to hear about people with disabilities who have problems in the workplace," said Charlotte Stewart, executive director of the nonprofit Rehabilitation Education and Advocacy for Citizens with Disabilities in Dallas.

"There is still a lot of fear by employees," Stewart said.

In fiscal 2004, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 15,376 charges of disability discrimination and recovered about $48 million in benefits, not including money from litigation.

Monteleone, who became deaf when he was an infant as a result of an illness, began working at the Albertsons warehouse in 1991, according to his attorney. He started as a worker in the receiving department and later moved to the mechanized selection department in the warehouse, she said.

In December 2002, Monteleone filed a complaint with the EEOC and received clearance to file suit in December 2004.

According to the federal lawsuit, the EEOC found that Monteleone was subjected to harassment by supervisors and co-workers and was denied transfers because of his disability. The EEOC also noted that Albertsons officials failed to take any action on Monteleone's complaints.

"It is fair to say that this was a source of great frustration and anguish to Mr. Monteleone," Fitzgerald said.

Monteleone is still employed by Albertsons, but he suffered a back injury in July 2003 that has forced him to be on leave, the lawsuit says.

"All Mr. Monteleone ever wanted was to do his job and have the same opportunities and be treated like the other employees," Fitzgerald said.

Domingo Ramirez Jr., (817) 390-7684 ramirez@star-telegram.com

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