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Lawyer in Wheelchair Sues Bronx DA's Office for Discrimination

By Eddie Small | February 20, 2017 3:04pm
 Attorney Diana Lewis says she is suing the Bronx District Attorney's Office for demanding her resignation after she started using a wheelchair following an accident.
Attorney Diana Lewis says she is suing the Bronx District Attorney's Office for demanding her resignation after she started using a wheelchair following an accident.
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John Truax

THE BRONX — A lawyer is suing the Bronx District Attorney's Office for demanding her resignation after she started using a wheelchair and took part in a lawsuit against the city over the accessibility of its courthouses.

Diana Lewis, 53, began working for the Bronx DA's Office in October 2010 after a career in television, and told numerous employees that being an assistant district attorney was "the best job she ever had," according to the lawsuit.

"I had always wanted to be a lawyer," Lewis said, "and when TV became mainly reality shows, I was like, you know what? I want to go back to my original dream and become a lawyer."

She was then seriously injured in an October 2011 accident, fracturing her leg and damaging the nerves below her spine, the suit says.

Her doctor prescribed a wheelchair for her in the fall of 2014, and she began using it full time at the beginning of 2015, court papers say.

Lewis had a hard time moving between Bronx Criminal Court, the Bronx Hall of Justice and the Bronx District Attorney's Office while in her wheelchair and had an accident in the Hall of Justice on April 21, 2015, the suit says.

She then went out on long-term disability in May 2015 and asked the Bronx DA's Office in 2016 to accommodate her disability by transferring her to Special Narcotics Prosecutor's office in Manhattan, according to the suit, which was first reported by the New York Post.

The office denied this request, maintaining that it could be seen as a promotion instead of an accommodation, and did not suggest other ways to handle Lewis' disability, court papers claim.

Lewis later requested to work from home, but the office turned this down as well, saying it would make it too hard to keep track of the work she was doing.

"I don’t think they want anyone working from home. I don’t think they wanted to accommodate me," Lewis said. "They just don’t want anyone who is an added hassle."

Lewis argued that working from home should not have been a problem, as it would be possible for her to work on appeals without having to go to the office every day, and the progress of the cases assigned to her would be proof that she was actually doing work.

She had been part of a class action lawsuit against New York City regarding the accessibility of its courthouses and was revealed as one of the clients on June 20, 2016.

After this came to light, the Bronx DA's Office demanded that Lewis resign from her position, but she refused to do so and is now suing the office for $4 million and attorneys' fees.

"It seems like they just don’t want a disabled person working there," said her lawyer Mark Warren Moody.

The Bronx DA's Office declined to comment on her new lawsuit.

Lewis described The Bronx as a "neglected borough" and said its accessibility issues were "shameful."

"I think the courts at least should be accessible," she said, "and they are not."