Blind Workers Sue Nonprofit Employer

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October 27, 2010; Source: NECN | The Nebraska chapter of the National Federation of the Blind (NFBNE) has lodged an employment discrimination complaint in federal court against Outlook Nebraska Inc. (ONI). Outlook, contends the Federation, doesn’t pay blind workers as much as sighted workers and doesn’t allow blind workers to fill supervisory positions.

Employment discrimination suits on behalf of disabled workers are not uncommon. But in this case, the employer—Outlook Nebraska—is a nonprofit that exists to help blind people find jobs. The suit therefore asserts that Outlook Nebraska essentially discriminates against the population it exists to serve. Because the plaintiff is a respected advocacy organization on behalf of blind people in the same state as Outlook, the complaint might be quite different than employment cases lodged by outside groups with little or no connection to geographic area being served by the employer.

NPQ found the NFBNE complaint on the PACER system. Interesting points and charges in the complaint include these:

  • NFBNE filed on behalf of several Outlook employees, but none were named in the complaint because of their fear of retaliation.
  • According to the complaint, “Some blind workers have been specifically told that they will not be allowed to manage because they cannot see.”
  • According to the complaint, when workflow at the federally subsidized ONI slowed, only blind workers, not sighted workers, were laid off.
  • Alleging ONI’s several OSHA violations, the complaint contended, “A former employee who articulated safety concerns was terminated in retaliation.”
  • “(O)ther employees who have attempted to advocate for their employment rights and protections have been either terminated or have suffered other forms of adverse employment action.”

The other charges about pay and promotion differentials are all pointed, but like these, without details about the specific incidents and the people involved. One might expect Outlook Nebraska to issue an across-the-board denial and ask for the case to be tossed. There has been enough controversy over programs that train, employ, and place disabled workers to make this case another one that merits attention to see if there is any substance to the NFBNE charges.—Rick Cohen