Landmark Discrimination Case Reinforces Emphasis on Abilities, Not Appearances

Imagine this. You’ve just started your dream job, a position you have pursued for years. You are not only excited to take on this next phase in your life, but proud that you have made it this far. But something happens. Just weeks later, you’re let go. Not because of lack of ability or skill, but because of your appearance. What would you do?

That very scenario happened to former Army Ranger Justin Slaby, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who was hired as an FBI special agent only to be dismissed 6 weeks later. In 2004, Slaby lost his left hand to a grenade and has since used a prosthetic. In 2011, he was admitted to the FBI training academy, having passed all the basic fitness for duty tests – including proficiency in weapons – with both of his main prosthetics. But just weeks later, instructors removed him from the academy claiming he could not safely fire a gun with his prosthetic hand – claims that were made after he had already proven he could. He offered to demonstrate his abilities to his instructors at the firing range. They refused. He sued. And last week, he won.

After examining all the evidence – and witnessing a demonstration of Slaby shooting with both his right and prosthetic left hand – jurors determined he was qualify to serve as an FBI special agent despite his disability. They also determined that he was dismissed from academy solely because of his disability, and he did not actually pose any threat to himself or his fellow agents. Slaby won a hefty settlement – but that’s not why he did it.

“If you’re ever in a position where you have all the ability to fight something that somebody else can’t, I think it takes more to walk away from that and not do anything than it does to try,” Slaby said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel. “There was no way I could walk away. There was no decision. It was never an option.”

But it’s not over yet. In the coming month, the US District Attorney that presided over the case will determine the “when” and “how” of Slaby’s return to the academy. And while Slaby’s name has been the one in the headlines, he is not the only victor. He hopes his case and future accomplishments with the FBI will help people recognize that having a disability does not mean the end of your career.

“Hopefully, I’ve blown a hole in it for a lot of other people trying to do the same thing,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post. “Hopefully, this just gives everybody a fair shot.”

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