Police Applicant With Color Blindness Loses Lawsuit

Michael Taveras applied to become a police officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. During his initial medical screening, Taveras was diagnosed with a color vision deficiency and was referred to Ophthalmologic Associates for further testing. Ophthalmologic Associates reported to the Port Authority that Taveras has a “strong protan defect,” referring to an abnormality in the red pigment of the eye.

Taveras’ vision defect resulted in his inability to discern certain colors. While Taveras’ defect might be treatable with contact lenses, under the Port Authority’s rules individuals with color vision deficiency are not allowed to wear contact lenses during visual testing.

The Port Authority does allow individuals who are nearsighted to wear contact lenses during testing, provided they have uncorrected vision of no less than 20/100 in each eye and corrected vision of no less than 20/40 in each eye. The Port Authority’s rationale for this distinction is that while a police officer with uncorrected vision of 20/100 who loses his lenses can still see sufficiently to describe individuals and vehicles, an officer with a moderate or strong color defect could not perform accurate descriptions in the event he lost his lenses.

When the Port Authority rejected Taveras’ application for employment, he brought a lawsuit in federal court. Taveras alleged that the Port Authority violated his right to equal protection under the law.

The federal District Court dismissed Taveras’ lawsuit. The Court ruled that in order to prevail on an “equal protection” claim in the absence of the individual’s presence in a protected class, the individual must show not only “irrational and wholly arbitrary acts, but also intentional disparate treatment” on the part of the employer. It was the requirement of “intentional” disparate treatment that Taveras could not meet.

As the Court reasoned, “Taveras has failed to come forward with any specific facts to show that the Port Authority intentionally treated Taveras differently from similarly-situated candidates. Taveras has merely shown that his expert disagrees with Ophthalmologic Associates’ overall assessment of the deficiencies of a number of candidates. In other words, by looking at the test results of these candidates, Taveras’ expert has determined that, in his opinion, various candidates whom Ophthalmologic Associates evaluated as suffering from only mild defects in fact suffer from more severe defects. While this disagreement potentially demonstrates that the Port Authority’s outside specialist misinterpreted some candidates’ test results, it does not raise an inference that the Port Authority knew that it was treating Taveras differently from anyone else. Without some evidence of this knowledge, no reasonable juror could infer that the Port Authority intended to treat Taveras differently from other candidates.”

Taveras v. Port Authority of New York, 2005 WL 1383165 (S.D.N.Y. 2005).

This article appears in the August 2005 issue