Lee Martin, a 53-year-old man who lost his sight in June of 1999 is suing DiamlerChrysler for discrimination, saying they let him go because he was blind. Martin hopes to not only win lost wages, but also a better understanding of what the blind can do
Martin worked for DaimlerChrysler since 1993, where he served as safety coordinator of his department and often put in 70-hour workweeks. Already blind in one eye, in 1999 he lost the sight in his other one as well. Martin began attending a rehabilitation program for blinded Vietnam War veterans in Chicago. Here, he met more veterans like himself, learned independent living skills and how to operate machinery in an industrial room. He worked with machinery he never even touched when he had sight. By the fall of 2000, his confidence that he would be able to return to his job was high. In November, 2000, Martin began meeting with officials at DiamlerChrysler. He was given a few minutes of instruction from a worker that worked as a filter operator for about 15 minutes as a skills test. The next time he would do this task was in December 2004, more than two years after DaimlerChrysler officially informed him that his employment was over. The display was designed to show that Martin could safely perform the functions of a foundry job. An expert in blind employment showed Martin techniques for navigating the equipment and said he had the “real hang of it” in just a few minutes.
Martin’s lawyer says that his client gave his employer every opportunity to understand his abilities, but that they chose not to listen. DiamlerChrysler closed the door to the foundry to Lee Martin in March of 2002. It would eventually close the door to the foundry in September of 2005 to all other employees as well when it permanently shut down operations there.
Martin’s case has gained the attention of national activists for the blind, who say sightless people still face the assumption that they are helpless. Martin brought his suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which bans employer discrimination based on disabilities. Under this Act, passed in 1990, an employer unlawfully discriminates by failing to make a reasonable accommodation of the individual’s known limitations. In cases in which the disability makes the person incapable of performing his or her old job, the burden is on the disabled person to identify a vacant position for which he or she is qualified.