Monday, May 30, 2016

Kerala HC quashes HPCL's stipulation denying distributorship on groud of blindness [Judgement Included]

Dear Colleagues,

In a writ petition W.P.(C).No.29046/2013 titled Baby P. Versus M/s Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited, the Honorable Kerala High Court vide its judgement dated 30 May 2016 has quashed the stipulation that ‘totally blind person is ineligible’ for LPG distributorship as violative of Article 14 of Constitution of India.

The petitioner, P. Baby of Thiruvananthapuram, a totally blind person, applied for LPG Distributorship at Kodiyathoor in Kollam under S.C.(C.C) category. But his application was rejected by the respondent on two grounds, one of them being that a ‘totally blind person’ was ineligible to apply for LPG distributorship & the other being lack of own space for operating the agency. The petitioner had submitted that he was willing to take on rent adequate space to run the agency.

Quashing a part of the norms formulated by the petroleum company that allowed denying distributorship to persons who are completely blind, the court held that it amounts to violation of the constitutional right to equality before law and denies equal opportunity to blind persons.

In the judgment, the court said if a disability doesn't prevent a person from performing a job, such a disability cannot be the reason for denying the job. Denying a job citing disability can only be allowed if the disability prevents the person from performing the functions associated with the job. Denial of jobs citing disability becomes necessary only in special circumstances such as driving, the court said. 

The petroleum company had contended that if a blind person such as the petitioner is granted LPG distributorship, he won't be able to inspect complaints related to cylinders and that inspection of cylinders to rectify complaints is a job that requires maintenance of the highest safety standards. However, the court said those who formed the norms ousting blind persons completely from grant of distributorships are unaware of the fact that they are able to perform such tasks that require a high degree of specificity. 

Delivering the judgment, Justice Muhammed Mustaque, opined that the above stipulation of classification  was unreasonable, since it  had no nexus with the purpose sought to be achieved. The bench opined:- “The classification in the case in hand appears to have been made based on the broad generalization that the Distributorship can be run only by persons of certain abilities. Such a classification ex facie appears to be unreasonable and unsustainable. Though, the object of such prescription appears to be that in order to carry out day-to-day affairs, constant vision of the Distributors is required. The vision of eye sight, in fact, has nothing to do with the functions being discharged by the Distributors. A blind person is also endowed with a vision. Though, he cannot physically see an activity, with his insight vision he can run a Distributorship. Therefore, the object of classification must have a nexus with the purpose and intent to be achieved.

The modern technological advantages and improvement of social conditions of the blind cannot be ignored while considering the functional duties attached with Distributorship.” The court further elaborated its stand, by employing the Doctrine of strict scrutiny developed by American courts, wherein the general presumption available for a statute,  on its validity cannot be invoked for an executive action, but the onus is cast on the proponent of the classification to establish its constitutionality.

The Court thereupon proceeded, to determine the constitutionality of the stipulation and whether the same   causes reverse discrimination. Answering the query in affirmative the court ruled:-“The blind persons cannot be treated as a separate class except for affirmative action or for the purpose of functional duty attached with an office or post. They are equally competent and have all competitive and cognitive skills similar to the able bodied persons except lacking visionary functions. Therefore, they can be treated as a separate class for the purpose of affirmative actions or for any other purpose relating to the functional competence of the duties attached to the post/office.

As has been noted above, the doctrine of scrutiny casts a duty on the policy makers to justify discrimination and not otherwise. In this case, absolutely no materials have been placed before this Court to justify classification.” Terming the stipulation as violative of Article 14, the court observed:- “The equal opportunities for a blind person cannot be negated unless the functions that have to be discharged by him intrinsically, cannot be separated from his disability, such as persons like drivers or such other functionaries who may require vision for carrying out the function. A blind person would be also able to discharge the same functions as that of an able bodied person without any impediment as far as LPG Distributorship is concerned. Therefore, this Court is of the view that the stipulation in the Brochure that a “totally blind person is ineligible” is violative of Art.14 of the Constitution. Accordingly, the clause as above is set aside.”

Media stories  

Times of India - Disability not a bar for jobs they can perform: HC

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Franklin Institute's policy of charging attendant of disabled patron held discriminatory


Federal Judge orders Franklin Museum to change admission policy of charging the attendant of disabled patron since it would be deemed discriminatory to disabled under the provisions of ADA.

A federal judge has ordered the Franklin Institute to stop discriminating against disabled patrons by making personal-care attendants pay entrance fees.

The court order follows a 2013 lawsuit alleging that the nonprofit museum's policies prevented some disabled people from enjoying all the institute has to offer by charging their caretakers for the price of admission.

Lead plaintiff Michael Anderson has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair with the help of a full-time personal attendant. His attendant was charged at the door and for special offerings at the institute.

For instance, when Anderson tried to attend an Imax screening, he was told that his attendant must buy a ticket, a position that attorneys for the institute defended in federal court for more than two years. They have argued that waiving the fee could, eventually, cause the nonprofit to run a deficit and even trigger layoffs.

"The illogic of the institute's position is as striking as its hyperbole," wrote U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh Jr.

McHugh wrote that he's "frankly puzzled" that the Franklin Institute would resist following the law — the Americans with Disabilities Act — because it could dampen ticket sales. 

"To credit such a theory would not only render the ADA meaningless, but endorse a result inimical to its purposes," he wrote.

According to institute attorneys, personal-care attendants are no longer charged the $19.95 cost of general admission. However in filings, they contend the institute cannot extend the policy to Imax screenings and other special exhibits that have limited seating.

Now, the institute is under a court order to change that. 

The institute provides personal-care attendants with a folding chair to sit in an upper section dedicated to wheelchair seating for Imax screenings. Arguing that waiving the folding chair cost is hurting the museum's revenue is "nonsensical," the judge wrote, since those seats are not available to the general public.

The institute does not keep records on how many people with disabilities are accompanied by personal-care attendants, making the financial impact of waiving the folding chair fee difficult to quantify. Furthermore, the majority of Imax and special exhibits never even reach 50 percent capacity, McHugh wrote.

"No reasonable fact-finder could conclude that an occasional $1 loss to a $135 million organization constitutes an unreasonable cost or an undue financial burden," the judge wrote.

In a statement, the Franklin Institute said it has a long history of serving the disabled community through education and outreach programs. 

"We strongly disagree with the decision," said spokeswoman Stefanie Santo, saying the institute will now "explore all of our options." 

The Miami-based attorneys representing the institute never returned calls seeking comment.

Attorney Stephen Gold, who represented the plaintiffs in the case, said without caretakers, many severely disabled people in the Philadelphia area cannot partake in the region's cultural offerings.

"We hope that museums and other institutions throughout the country will modify their policies to conform to the ADA," he wrote in a statement.

Source: Newsworks

Monday, May 2, 2016

Private Insurance Contracts can't override fundamental rights of equality & health through exclusion clauses

Dear Colleagues,

Please refer to my earlier blog entry titled "Extra Premium or reduced insurance amount, both discriminatory against employees with disabilities- Delhi HC" wherein the Hon'ble Delhi High Court had categorically come to a conclusion that charging extra premium from employees with disabilities was indeed a discrimination on the basis of disability and the court in its remarkable judgement directed the postal life insurance to provide equal insurance coverage and not charge extra premium from the employees with disabilities.

I had called that judgement  a milestone in the disability rights movement with far reaching implications not only in India but also beyond India and especially in European countries where the actuaries continue to discriminate against persons with disabilities by under-valuing their lives. 

In the instant case, the plaintiff  Jai Prakash Tayal, holding a mediclaim policy had filed a suit seeking payment of Rs. 5 lakh spent on his treatment while the Insurance firm had denied mediclaim saying “genetic disease is not payable as per policy genetic exclusion clauses".

The trial court presided by Hon'ble Additional District Judge, Delhi Dr. (Ms.) Kamini Lau lambasted the United India Insurance Company, a Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) of Govt. of India, for rejecting the mediclaim of a person for heart ailment on the ground of genetic disease exclusion clause. 
News Clipping from Times of India Delhi Edition 02 May 2016

Adding that the clause was "arbitrary , discriminatory and unfair" the Judge said, “I hold that a genetic disease exclusion clause in a mediclaim insurance policy, which totally excludes the grant of insurance in case of genetic diseases, is liable to be struck down being violative of the constitutional mandate, the fundamental underlying constitutional scheme, policy of the state and public good.

The plaintiff had told the court that he had already taken two claims for the same treatment and, therefore, a third claim for the same disease was not liable to be rejected. The court ruled in favour of the plaintiff and said he was entitled to the amount. It observed that a person suffering from a genetic disease is as much in need of a medical insurance cover as others and in fact the liability qua them is more.

“No person can be discriminated or deprived of state protection in case of an ailment, be it genetic or acquired. The courts of law are required to interpret the provisions of the private contracts in the light of these constitutional obligations,“ the court said.

The court held that good health is not a privilege but a justiciable fundamental right and lamented that healthcare finances have a poor record as only 4% of the national budget is spent on it. “The time has come that India catches up with this alternative model of allocating resources and funding to its public health programmes,“ the judge said. 

Related News from Times of India :  Court pulls up insurer, cites right to health