Work and Benefits

IF you're fit to do the job, you're fit to get the pension for it: This is the statement behind a new lawsuit filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Since 1985, Kevin Holmes had been judged physically fit to serve as a policeman in Aurora, Ill. But he has been judged unfit to qualify for a pension because of a medical condition. Although he passed physical exams to become an officer, he failed separate medical tests administered by the Aurora Police Pension Fund. That has allowed the fund to deny him disability, retirement, and survivors' benefits, even if he were injured in the line of duty and forced to retire.

A second Aurora police officer, unnamed in court documents because he has not filed a lawsuit, has been similarly denied benefits because of a back condition.

Last February, Mr. Holmes filed a discrimination lawsuit, invoking the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. In a rather unusual move, the Justice Department has joined Holmes in suing the State of Illinois and the City of Aurora. It is the Justice Department's first use of the disabilities act to fight job discrimination.

Both the state and the city are arguing that they were not responsible for the ordinance and that the suit should be confined to the police pension board that created it. But the significant news is that neither Illinois nor Aurora is disputing the justice of Holmes's claim. In addition, six more cases in other municipalities are now being investigated by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

James Turner, the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the division, has issued a warning to other states and cities by calling the suit ``the kickoff of a new and expanding area of law enforcement, one that we take seriously.''

This prompt initiative ensures that an entitlement will be fairly extended to all men and women who have earned it. But beyond the deserved benefit to those workers directly involved, there is a gain for the whole community. Every vigorous application of particular civil rights can strengthen the rights of all. Further, each successful act of resistance against discrimination in any form defines anew the national ideal of equality, and in so doing clarifies what the American experiment is all about.

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