Thursday, September 29

Press Release: Disabled Employees Sue RSA

Here's another lawsuit that has been filed against the Department of Education in response to the downsizing.

Sept. 23, 2005 Contact: Heather
For immediate release

Disabled Employees Sue Rehab Administration for Discriminatory
Job Termination

A group of disabled and older Rehabilitation Services
Administration employees sued Department of Education Secretary Margaret
Spellings on Sept. 20, 2005 in federal court in Washington, D.C., asking
the court to keep her from firing them when the new fiscal year begins
on Oct. 1. RSA distributes federal grant monies to state and local
organizations to provide job and independent living skills training to
severely handicapped adults.

The employees work in regional offices around the
country, where they help grant recipients comply with the law and help
them run the programs more effectively. RSA's programs assist millions
of disabled people in communities across the nation, and its employees
provide a valuable knowledge base and institutional continuity for State
VR agencies, which are often underfunded and have high staff turnover.

In February 2005, the agency announced it would close
the regional offices and terminate all the employees, including the 24
plaintiffs, seventeen of whom are disabled and five of whom are Blind.
Only the 65 RSA regional employees, within the 4,500-employee Department
of Education, were targeted for downsizing. According to RSA
Commissioner Dr. Joanne Wilson, who is blind, a Department of Education
official told her that RSA has "too many Blind employees." Dr. Wilson
resigned from the agency in protest of the closing of the regional
offices. In recent years the RSA parent organization, the Office of
Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, routinely made illegal
inquiries about job applicants' disabilities before approving their
hiring. The hiring of qualified Blind job applicants has been
either delayed or rejected on at least three occasions in the last two

RSA contends that closing the regional offices will cut
costs, and headquarters employees will take over the work that was done
in the regions. George Chuzi, who is representing the group, says, "RSA
apparently plans to help the local VR organizations by remote control."
He is with Washington, D.C. law firm Kalijarvi, Chuzi and Newman, where
associate Heather White also represents the plaintiffs.

The law suit notes that both Houses of Congress approved
RSA's budget and appropriated more than was requested for some programs.
The group questions why the Department of Education did not ask for
enough money to pay the salaries of all of its employees. "They are
motivated by equal parts dislike of people with disabilities and dislike
of federal assistance to people with disabilities," says Wilson. "The
agency is destroying (our) lives,"said Mike Evans, a visually impaired
Vocational Rehabilitation Program Specialist in Dallas, TX.

The law suit alleges that the decisions to close the
regional offices and terminate the employees was motivated by the
agency's culture of discrimination against people with disabilities,
especially the Blind. They also point to the agency's failure to offer
to transfer them to headquarters in violation of the law on "transfers
of function," which allow federal employees to move with their jobs
when the functions they perform are moved from one competitive area to

The agency claims that this action is not a transfer of
function, while simultaneously insisting that all functions that were
previously performed in the regional offices will now be performed from
headquarters. The duties performed in the regions will go on, but
without the regional employees and their expertise. According to the
law suit, however, headquarters employees are unfamiliar with the duties
of the regional employees, making even "remote control" impossible.

The group is seeking a temporary restraining order
preventing RSA from firing the regional employees, who allege that with
the high cost of health insurance and their preexisting conditions, once
they are fired they will not be able to afford health care for
themselves and their families.

The National Federation of the Blind has filed a related
lawsuit on behalf of blind vendors who will be affected by the RSA's
closing of regional offices. Both cases are now before the U.S.
District Court for the District of Columbia.

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