County to pay $25,000 in deaf lifeguard case

By Ed White

Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- A deaf lifeguard has agreed to a $25,000 settlement with a Michigan county that offered him a job at a pool but rescinded it.

Nicholas Keith, who's deaf and unable to speak, claimed Oakland County violated a federal law that protects people with disabilities.

He was offered a job at a wave pool in 2007, but the offer was dropped after officials talked to risk consultants. Keith, now 23, can use a cochlear implant to detect noises, whistles and people calling for him. He also can blow a whistle.

Oakland County attorney Keith Lerminiaux said the county believes it would have convinced a jury that Keith couldn't perform a lifeguard's "essential functions." But the case was settled for $25,000 for practical reasons.

"Completing pretrial matters and taking the matter through trial ... would have conservatively cost us $100,000 in attorney's fees, expert witness fees and the like," Lerminiaux said Monday.

A trial had been set for Tuesday in Port Huron federal court. A judge in 2011 ruled in favor of the county and dismissed the lawsuit, but a federal appeals court reinstated it, saying the wrong legal standard was used.

Keith's attorney, Joey Niskar, said his client had proposed carrying cards in his swimsuit that say, "I am deaf. I will get someone to assist you. Wait here."

"This kid proved himself and they denied him the opportunity to perform the job because of subjective biases and ignorance," Niskar said.

He noted that LeRoy Colombo, who was deaf, was credited with saving hundreds of swimmers over 40 years in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston, Texas. He died in 1974.

Published: Wed, Oct 16, 2013


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