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Mon, Jun 26, 2006

Wheelchair-Bound Controller Says FAA Is 'Retaliating' By Letting Him Go

Man Sued Over Accessibility In 2002

Is it discrimination... or the agreed-upon outcome of an earlier court settlement? That's the question posed by the case of a Miami air traffic controller who says he received a surprise gift from the FAA for his 50th birthday: a pink slip.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports the agency notified controller Ray McLeod last week that as of Monday, June 26 -- McLeod's 50th birthday -- he will no longer have the job he's held for 21 years.

The matter of why that's the case is subject to debate, however. McLeod -- who uses a wheelchair -- says the FAA is "retaliating" for a suit he brought against the agency in 2002, for failing to make his workplace more accessible to the handicapped.

"To be forced out the door without time to prepare, to me, that's just not right," McLeod said. "I still have financial responsibilities and bills."

Not surprisingly, the FAA denies McLeod's accusation that the agency is retaliating against him for his lawsuit -- but rather that it was an agreed-upon outcome from a subsequent court settlement reached between the two parties. Upon turning 50, an FAA spokesman said, McLeod is eligible to receive his pension -- and his birthday is also the date the FAA can let him go.

"The agency takes great pride to create a positive environment for employees who have disability concerns," said FAA spokesman Geoff Basye.

McLeod was paralyzed in a 1975 motorcycle accident. After undergoing rehabilitation, he worked as an airline dispatcher for 10 years, before being hired on as a controller at Miami Center.

There, McLeod says, he struggled to work in an environment not suited to the needs of the wheelchair-bound. The matter got worse when in 2000, the center installed new radar displays too low squeeze his wheelchair under.

McLeod first filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, then a lawsuit in US District Court in Miami. The FAA opted to settle the suit, allowing McLeod to continue working as an assistant controller -- until the first day he was eligible for retirement.

McLeod said his interpretation of the clause was that he could continue working for the FAA in another position.

"There have been other controllers who are no longer capable of working air traffic for medical reasons, who have been assigned other jobs," he said.

"After being a good employee for 20-plus years, it's just no way for anybody to be treated."

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.eeoc.gov

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