Massachusetts awards $100,000 to blind barber over firing

Great moments in discrimination law: Joel Nixon, who has been diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa and is legally blind, was fired from his job at Tony’s barber shop in South Easton, Mass. He says he had been giving men’s haircuts for years to customers’ satisfaction but was fired after a 2012 incident “when he tripped over a customer’s legs. Later in the day, he tripped over a chair in the waiting room.” His former employer Tony Morales calls the allegations “a bunch of lies” but “did not appear at numerous hearings and parted ways with an attorney who was supposed to help him.” The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, the state civil rights agency, awarded Nixon $75,000 in lost wages and $25,000 for emotional distress. [Bob McGovern, Boston Herald]


  • Not really as strange as it sounds. If the shop owner didn’t appear, he defaulted.

    All the blind guy had to do was show up and present a prima facie case (testify that he was a barber who was qualified to do haircuts, did so without difficulty, and that “they fired me because I was blind”).

    No one would have been there to ask him the important questions on cross-examination, and defendant (shop owner) did not testify that the blind guy could not, in fact, do his job safely.
    All the judge was left with was the blind guy’s version of the facts.

    • I wonder… Could a blind person be a competent barber? Seems counterintuitive, but it might be possible. I would posit that, in a competition, I could find blindfolded barbers who do a better job than unencumbered barbers. Sort of like I bet that Michael Jordan in his prime could shoot free throws better blindfolded than Shaquille O’Neal could shoot free throws without a blindfold.

  • Mr. Allan, I will have to defer to you on Jordan/O’Neal; I am not learned in B-ball.
    A true thing: the last time I stayed at a hotel in Chicago , there was no Gideon Bible in the bedside table. There was, however, a copy of Michael Jordan’s autobiography.

    Back to the barber: There are two ways in which this guy could make his case that he can be a barber even though legally blind: 1) he could be “legally blind” but can actually see enough to cut hair (I have met legally blind people who could read books if they squinted and put the book very close to their faces) or, 2) he could really believe that he could do the job and testify in all sincerity. Many plaintiffs are under the illusion that they are doing their job properly… They don’t need to lie or deliberately exaggerate in order to support their position.
    The most important thing here is that defendant didn’t bother to show up.

  • You don’t have to be totally blind to be declared “legally blind”. From what I’ve read here he has problems with his peripheral vision, but, can still somewhat see.

  • Allan, I read the linked article. Apparently the guy is “legally blind” because he suffers from a condition that causes the loss of his peripheral vision, but he can still see things directly in front of him. Over time, the disease is supposed to make him completely blind, but at the moment – reading between the lines – he can apparently see well enough to pass the licensing for cutting hair and to actually cut hair – but can’t see well enough (again, accepting the article as true) to prevent him from tripping over things or bumping into things he can’t see, because they aren’t directly in front of him.

    The comments in the linked article are interesting as well, with one poster claiming the guy’s license is expired, and others claiming he give good hair cuts, with a referral to the facility where he is currently working.

    For myself, I feel both sides have some merit to their concerns – liability for the shop owner – and ability to perform his chosen profession for the barber – but I am unwilling to make any pronouncement as to who is “right” in this case, based on a single news article. I’ll say only that its an interesting case of balancing various rights, made less interesting by the shop owner’s choice to default…

  • Back when Woolworth was operating its Woolco Department Stores, an applicant who was deaf mute filed a charge against a store in Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, when it failed to hire her for a position in its Stereo and Music Department. I took the case because my mother lived near the store. To my surprise the NY Division of Human Rights was apparently hell bent on pushing the charge despite the obvious inability of the Charging Party to perform the basics of the job. When asked why, the answer was, “Woolworth is a big company; you should be able to find something for her to do.”
    My protests, as well as production of cases showing the correctness of our position fell on deaf ears. (No pun intended.) After months of back and forth, it was sent to the Division’s office in the WTC to have it reconciled somehow. I settled it for $2,000.00 without hiring the CP, and a non-admission clause, as it was consuming too much time.
    I thought that topped the cake, but defer to the case of a blind barber!

  • Part of the issue is that two related but distinct concepts are being conflated. “Legally blind” is a term of law, it is not a medical diagnosis. There are a number of visual impairments that can lead to a conclusion of legally blind that do not include a complete absence of any sense of sight, such as “tunnel vision”, “blind spots” due to macular degeneration or retinal tears, inability to see in bright or dim surroundings, etc.

    There needs to be an essential functions test to determine if the plaintiff cannot perform the job with any practical accommodation. It seems in the instant case the defendant defaulted and was not present to challenge the plaintiff’s conclusion that he was able to continue to work.

    Yes, there are dumb laws, but there are also dumb litigants as well.

  • You can be completely blind and cut hair. You can feel a good hair cut.