Man: Disabled or not, I deserve equal opportunity on the job

By Matt Porter

July 24, 2013 Updated Jul 24, 2013 at 6:48 PM EDT

Oneonta, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Robert Vance was born with a neural hearing disorder that left him partially deaf.

The feedback of hearing aids cause Vance pain, so he reads lips to help him with words that go unheard or become distorted.

Vance worked at the Mead Westvaco plant in Sidney, N.Y., where he said he was discriminated against for his disability.

"I wasn't treated equally, I wasn't afforded different job rotations like everybody else," Vance said, "And I also did not have the experience everybody else should have."

Since 2007, Vance has filed several claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about his experience at Mead.

The EEOC ordered independent mediation between the two parties, but Vance said the situation was never resolved.

Last month, Vance was fired from Mead and he said it had to with his continued complaints against the management.

"They denied I had a hearing disability, but that's not true because I put it on the job application," he said.

Chris Hilderbrant, head of the Center for Disability Rights, said in New York, disability disputes are now more common than discrimination based on race and gender.

"Disability is the No. 1 issue that they hear about in terms of employment discrimination that it surpassed race and gender and sex," Hilderbrant said.

He said many claims are not submitted due to fears of retaliation or that people involved don't realize they have the right to file a claim.

And for those who file claims, even a successful one can make little difference.

"Even if you win," Hilderbrant said, "Basically the power that the EEOC or others have is to force your employer to continue to employ you. And do you really want to work at that place at that point."

Vance said he doesn't want to go back to Mead.

However, he's speaking out because he wants accountability.

"Disabled or not," he said, "Everybody should have the experience on the job."

Vance is continuing a lawsuit for discrimination and wrongful termination as of last month.

Mead Westvaco said it does not comment on pending litigation.

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