United States Olympic Committee accused of discriminating against disabled athletes

Employee says lawsuit against employer is last resort

An employee's lawsuit accusing the United States Olympic Committee of discriminating against disabled athletes surprised many USOC officials.

An employee's lawsuit accusing the United States Olympic Committee of discriminating against disabled athletes surprised many USOC officials.

"When I look at some of the things in this lawsuit, all I can say is I'm dazed and confused," said Charlie Huebner, executive director of the US Association for Blind Athletes.

The USOC president Bill Hybl and his aides responded on Thursday to a lawsuit filed by Mark Shepherd, the manager of the committee's Disabled Sports Services and a medalist in wheelchair basketball in the 1996 Olympic games at Atlanta.

In a 23-count complaint, Shepherd said he did not receive the same staff, budget or pay as other senior Olympic officials with similar responsibilities. He also alleged programmes for disabled athletes receive less funding and stipends for gold medals.

"I've risked pretty much everything, and I'm not a crusader," Shepherd said.

The USOC, which supports approximately 20,000 elite disabled athletes, disputes Shepherd's claims, saying just a week ago, its board of directors approved funding to give paralympic athletes the same commemorative rings and watches that other athletes receive.

"In my opinion, this really isn't about programmes for the disabled," said Scott Blackmun, USOC deputy executive director and general counsel. "This is about one disgruntled employee's career path."

Blackmun said Shepherd's performance on the job, including 35 unaccounted absences, did not merit bonuses or promotions.

Shepherd said he just looking out for his fellow disabled athletes.

"They represent their country. They put on the red, white and blue," he said. "Yet they're not afforded the same services as every other athlete. How long do you keep them at bay?"

The lawsuit calls for an independent investigation of the USOC and seeks at least $11 million in damages, as well as court costs.

While the USOC agreed to let Shepherd report to a different supervisor, Shepherd is seeking to resolve other issues.

"If I had a magic wand, all disabled athletes would receive the same access to services, programmes and funding as every other athlete in the United States," Shepherd said.

Shepherd had a traumatic spinal cord injury in 1986 while serving as a police officer in California. He said he is the only USOC employee bound to a wheelchair.

"I think they know I'm there as an advocate, but at the same time, they don't want that advocacy to be too loud," he said.

The lawsuit claims the USOC violated the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Rehabilitations Act of 1973 and other civil rights laws.

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