By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two former New York police officers who wear hearing aids are challenging their forced retirement, arguing that they were discriminated against, their lawyer said on Monday.
Daniel Carione, 44, and Jim Phillips, 40, have each filed complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over their compelled retirement from the New York Police Department.
"They're qualified to work and they should be permitted to work," Colleen Meenan, their attorney, said in a telephone interview on Monday.
"I don't think that a public policy which just broadly prohibits someone who has a hearing loss from working complies with the law, and I don't think it's an appropriate policy."
The New York Police Department did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Police spokesman Paul Browne told The New York Times that hearing aids are not compatible with police work because they were vulnerable to "mechanical failure, earwax build-up or any number of things."
Both men suffered hearing loss as a result of their police duties, Meenan said, which carry the risk of exposure to high noise levels.
Carione's hearing problems date to 1996, when he shot and killed a drunken man who threatened him with a knife. Another officer also fired several shots close to Carione's ear. Phillips' hearing began to be affected after he helped police control a large, noisy demonstration by whistle-blowing protesters in 2008.
Carione, a deputy inspector, and Phillips, a sergeant, each sought help for their hearing problems, which the police department initially provided, Meenan said.
"For a period of a time they were paying for hearing aids, then for some reason in 2009 they stopped," she said.
Officers who require spectacles, for example, which might just as easily be broken or dislodged as a hearing aid, are not forced to retire, the two officers said.
They also argue that the policy discourages other officers from seeking help for hearing problems. The department tests the hearing of new recruits, but does not routinely test officers' hearing. So the policy effectively punishes only those who come forward about hearing loss, they said.
The complaint, currently being processed by the EEOC, was originally filed in November 2010. Establishing a complaint with the commission is a necessary step before the officers can file a lawsuit in federal court, Meenan said.
(Editing for Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)