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Wednesday, August 02, 2006
UM Coach Carr Responds to "Blind Ref" Lawsuit

Today's Detroit Free Press has a response from Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr to being mentioned in a lawsuit filed by terminated Big 10 official James Filson in an Illinois federal court. Filson was a Big 10 official from 1992 until 2005. In 2000, he had suffered an eye injury leading to blindness in one eye; however, he wasn't terminated until Carr, who learned about the injury from another official, called the conference commissioner. Predictably, Filson claims his termination violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Upon terminating Filson, Big 10 Commish Delany stated that he had to go because he "failed to fulfill the 'minimum physical requirements' of the job and because he did not have a 'full field of vision.'" I'm not a doctor, but it certainly is easy to imagine how a person blinded in one eye might have diminished perception. One might worry that the official would miss a crucial call, or perhaps be injured because he failed to spot an mass of college athlete coming his way.

The big problem for the Big 10? Filson's "rating" as an official actually improved after his injury. That would seem to undercut the conference's ability to claim that Filson could not be reasonably accomodated. (How, exactly, Filson managed to improve his rating after his injury is an interesting question. Perhaps, sensitive to his potential limitations, he concentrated extra hard on making the right calls after his injury. But if extra concentration could improve his rating, what does that say about his pre-injury level of effort?).

Sports Illustrated's Justin Doom is cheering for Filson to get his job back. Doom suggests that a critical issue will be whether Filson told his bosses of his injury. I'm not sure that's legally correct. Unless Filson had a specific contractual obligation to disclose "material" changes in his health, I wouldn't think he has any obligation to tell his employer of an injury or disability that occurred off the job, particularly if he is not seeking an accomodation of any kind at work.

In any event, Coach Carr rejects the characterization that he tried to get Filson fired. According to the Freep:
"I made it clear to [Big 10 Commissioner] Jim [Delany] that I had no opinion and that I was not calling with any motivation other than to provide him with that information," Carr said. "What he chose to do with it was his decision. ... Given the same circumstances, I would make the same call -- in spite of the fact that it has been portrayed I cost him his job or that I was trying to get him fired. There is nothing further from the truth."


I have been following the case for a little over a week now and I think it would be very interesting to see how the case would unfold. I am sure a lot would depend on the actual causes in the contract, but here are some broader questions I posted on my blog.

• Do officials, who have been seen by conferences as independent contractors, have the same rights as employees?
• What physical requirements must a person meet to be an official?
• Does a league or conference have any right to enforce those requirements?
• How much influence should college coaches in a Conference have about the hiring and firing of a referee?

Blogger sokkichen -- 8/03/2006 6:11 AM  

I'm missing something here. So Carr merely informs the Big Ten what he heard about the referee? What is the legal claim asserted against Carr? Carr is not the employer.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 8/03/2006 6:53 AM  

RK: Think like a plaintiff's attorney! You know, a member of ATLA (uh, American Association for Justice). It doesn't matter whether there is a legit claim or not. Sue everyone and maybe they'll $ettle!

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/03/2006 7:57 AM  

Rick, you're right -- I don't think Carr is a defendant in the case after all, just "named" as a causal agent. I'm correcting my post. Good catch!

Blogger Geoffrey Rapp -- 8/03/2006 9:49 AM  

The Big 10, and other conferences, could eliminate this simply by including vision tests as part of their annual physicals, etc.

I don't believe that it would be inappropriate to require a certain level of vision for a position such as this.

Blogger RWA -- 8/05/2006 8:05 PM  

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