One-handed former boxer sues TSA for denying him employment and saying he's unfit to work
Wednesday, July 27th 2011, 4:00 AM
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A former Queens boxer is fighting to knock out a federal ruling that he can't work as an airport screener because he was born with only one hand.
"Anyone that knows me knows it's ridiculous for them to say I can't open luggage," Constantino told the Daily News. "I've fought in the Golden Gloves. I work out with former world champions. Opening luggage would be pretty easy for me."
After a medical examination, the TSA determined Constantino couldn't perform the job safely or efficiently.
Constantino, of Whitestone, has filed a formal complaint with the TSA. His lawyer, Jonathan Bell, is confident the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will reverse the TSA's decision and order the agency to pay for lost wages.
"They just made an assumption that he can't perform this job simply because he doesn't have a right hand - without any evidence to support it," Bell said.
The TSA never allowed Constantino to prove he could perform the tasks necessary to be an airport screener.
"The federal government is supposed to be a model employer, and this is what they do?" the lawyer said. "It's a disgrace."
Constantino applied online for a Transportation Security Officer position about two years ago after he lost his gig as a deli manager.
"It sounded like a good job with good benefits," Constantino said.
After applying for the TSA job, Constantino passed an online exam and cleared a background check.
In an interview with two officials about seven months ago, Constantino's disability was never brought up, he said. Not once was he asked about his missing right hand or any limitations it might cause him. Constantino walked out of the interview thinking he had landed the job. All that stood in his way, he believed, was a routine medical exam.
But shortly after the exam, Constantino received an email from the TSA informing him of his "medical disqualification" because of the loss of his right hand.
"It was a tough time," he said. "I was definitely depressed."
In the February email, the agency argued he couldn't properly conduct patdown searches using his palms or the backs of his hands.
They said he couldn't open zippers or snaps, record baggage tag information in logs or use his hands to detect prohibited items. He can't inspect lockets, pillboxes or medication, the agency's contracted doctors said.
The TSA suggested Constantino might still qualify for other positions within the agency or other federal jobs.
Constantino, who started sparring 10 years ago, once won "Boxer of the Night" honors at the Golden Gloves. He pummeled his first foe at the Daily News-sponsored tournament in 2002. Constantino went 2-3 in the 178-pound weight class before walking away from the ring.
Now, he feels he's fighting for everyone else with a disability.
"I'm going to keep going so this doesn't happen again," said Constantino, who has recently resumed training. "It's wrong what they did, and they should learn from their mistakes."