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It was apparently a coincidence that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard a case about deaf delivery drivers on the same day it issued an opinion on partially blind delivery drivers. “It was very bizarre,” said Claudia Center, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Center who worked on the blindness case. Both suits involved United Parcel Service’s policies toward disabled drivers. And in both cases, the court had mixed reactions to plaintiff arguments that people with partial vision or hearing loss should be allowed to drive small delivery trucks. In the first case, a three-judge panel issued a unanimous opinion on Sept. 15 saying that while drivers with partial monocular vision are disabled according to state law (the court ruled previously that they are not disabled under federal law), the plaintiffs were not entitled to jobs at UPS. Center wrote an amicus curiae brief in that case, Hogya v. United Parcel Service, C.D.O.S. 8382. The decision, she said, complicates an already messy tangle of blindness precedents by creating a new defense for employers who argue that disabled employers jeopardize the safety of others. “I’m concerned about future cases because everyone’s going to be citing this panel opinion on the defense,” she said. Center was in court later that same day when another three-judge panel heard arguments that partially deaf workers should be allowed to drive trucks weighing less than 10,000 pounds, since they are exempt from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s hearing standard. Todd Schneider, a lawyer representing plaintiffs in the case, Bates v. UPS, 04-17295, was optimistic. “I thought the judges asked the right questions,” said Schneider, whose co-counsel, Lawrence Paradis of Disability Rights Advocates, argued the case to the 9th Circuit panel. And while Judge Marsha Berzon, Senior Judge Betty Fletcher and Senior 8th Circuit Judge John Gibson, sitting by designation, seemed skeptical of UPS’ argument that it could apply the federal standard for trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds to lighter trucks, they did not give a clear sign of which way they would rule. But Schneider said he hoped the panel would see the case as a typical civil rights issue. “There’s a stereotype out there that says, ‘Deaf people are not safe,’” he said. “Of course, that’s no different from the stereotype we broke down years ago saying women couldn’t be police or firefighters.”

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