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Can You Fire a Barber for Being Blind?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 13, 2015 10:05 AM

Look, far be it from me to judge what other people want to do with their hair. Me? I want whoever's got the scissors to have 20/20 vision. But others, like Joel Nixon's loyal clients, don't mind a little diminished eyesight.

They call him "The Blind Barber," and, until 2012, they found him at Tony's Barber Shop in Norton, Massachusetts. Nixon was fired two years ago, and filed a discrimination claim against the shop and its owner, Tony Morales. This week, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ruled his firing was illegal and awarded the Blind Barber $100,000.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Blind Man

Nixon went from "an artist," as he told the Boston Herald, to living on food stamps. "When you're in my chair, I don't let you out of my chair until they're satisfied," Nixon said. "My vision does not compromise my ability to do my job." Still, Morales fired Nixon after he tripped over a customer's legs and a chair in the waiting room on the same day. The MCAD hearing transcript says "Morales told him to pack up his things and get his wife to take him home ... (Nixon) understood that his employment was being terminated."

Nixon suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary condition that limits his peripheral vision. While he also has trouble seeing at night, he could lose his sight completely and was declared legally blind by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, according to the Herald.

Seeing Eye Scissors

This designation was important, as people with disabilities are protected from discrimination under Massachusetts state law and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. In order to be protected, an employee must also be "qualified" for the job, meaning he or she is able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

By all accounts, Nixon was still able to cut hair competently at the barber shop and the Blind Barber has maintained "a following" of loyal customers. MCAD awarded Nixon $75,000 in lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress. His old boss is appealing the decision, telling the Herald, "It's a bunch of lies ... All of this is false accusations."

We'll see about that.

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