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Victoria attorney to represent wounded warrior in case against FBI

By Jessica Priest
July 27, 2013 at 2:27 a.m.
Updated July 28, 2013 at 2:28 a.m.


A Victoria attorney will defend a man who says prejudice toward his prosthetic hand ended what would have otherwise been a burgeoning career as an FBI special agent.

John W. Griffin Jr. will ask jurors in a Virginia federal court Monday to reinstate Justin Slaby, 30, to the position.

Slaby, of Milwaukee, Wis., sued the FBI's chief, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, on July 13, 2012, alleging the organization violated the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Zach Terwilliger, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment about the case.

The FBI says, though, that Slaby "could not safely and effectively satisfy all the requirements of the training curriculum and perform the essential functions of the job," according to court documents.

Slaby lost his left hand in 2004 during training as an Army Ranger in Georgia. Then, a stun grenade variant prematurely detonated. Prior to that, he deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan.

After he was fitted for a state-of-the-art electronic hand that cost thousands of dollars, some of which the Wounded Warriors Project raised, doctors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., encouraged him to try out for the FBI, Griffin said.

In 2009, Slaby graduated from a four-year college and passed everything the FBI threw at him, including a fitness for duty examination, he said.

It was only after he was hired and reported for duty Jan. 30, 2011, in Quantico, Va., that his prosthetic hand became an issue. That's when his fellow trainees overheard instructors say, "What's next? Guys in wheelchairs?" Griffin said.

Slaby then underwent during lunch and after hours additional assessments not required of other trainees.

The assessments included holding a flashlight with one hand while holding a gun with his prosthetic hand, changing a radio station with one hand while holding a gun with his prosthetic and handcuffing someone using only his prosthetic hand, none of which are considered essential functions of the job, Griffin said.

"They believed he was damaged goods before he even got there," Griffin said of how the FBI consulted with attorneys about Slaby's condition. "They wanted to trip him up ... and on each occasion, Justin was able to perform all of these things."

But the instructors were not comfortable because he did not act fluidly, which is why they demoted him to a support position within the agency, slashing his pay by a third, he said.

Slaby is the first person with a prosthetic hand, in Griffin's knowledge, to be hired as an FBI special agent.

"That's not to say there are not special agents in the field who don't have prosthetic hands. There are some, but he's the first who was actually hired already having those injuries," Griffin said.

Furthermore, Slaby's prosthetic hand was proven during several medical tests to be much stronger than the average person's real hand.

This is not Griffin's first dispute with the FBI.

In 2010, he represented Jeff Kapche, a Fort Bend County senior investigator who a jury ruled the FBI denied employment to because he injected himself with insulin.

The FBI had until then preferred its diabetic employees use an insulin pump.

Griffin will bring what he learned during that case to this one, and essentially, that is why Slaby recruited him to be a part of his legal team, he said.

"We've seen how stereotypes work. We've seen how prejudices work," Griffin said. "Prejudice starts with the notion that he or she can't do something simply because of the label that's assigned to them."

"Whether it's in baseball or shooting a gun, it doesn't matter your form. Whether a pitcher is fluid or jerky doesn't matter. If he strikes out the batters, he's a good pitcher," Griffin added.

Jury selection will begin at 10 a.m. Monday before Federal Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia, Terwilliger said.

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