Braille Monitor                                               December 2013

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Blind War Hero's Next Fight is in Federal Court

From the Editor: the following is reprinted from a press release posted October 17, 2013, which we received through the courtesy of Tim Elder. It outlines the legal battle against a loan company by Army Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta, who was blinded in combat in 2006. Following the original press release is an update about the outcome of the suit from Tim on October 25, 2013.

Army Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta's latest fight is against his bank, which denied his approved and fully executed loan only after finding out that Sgt. Major Acosta is blind. In 2006 Sgt. Major Acosta was hit by a mortar while leading his men on a mission in Iraq. He returned to his job at SoCal Gas Company in Garden Grove with a Purple Heart but suffering with Traumatic Brain Injury, severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and without his eyes.

On Tuesday, October 22, 2013, Sgt. Major Acosta will ask a federal jury to find that Huntington Beach-based NuVision Federal Credit Union ("NuVision") refused to fund a $20,000 loan they offered him after he went to sign loan documents and the bank realized Sgt. Major Acosta was blind. NuVision reneged on the fully executed loan and told Sgt. Major Acosta, "You didn't tell us you were blind; that's a problem." NuVision claimed that Sgt. Major Acosta had to produce a valid driver's license to qualify for a loan.

In a move reminiscent of the 1950s, when women could not borrow money without their husbands or fathers co-signing loans for them, NuVision's manager told Sgt. Major Acosta to get a co-signer for a new loan. The only qualification Jesse's co-signer needed, according to NuVision, was a valid driver’s license—the one qualification no blind person could ever meet.

Since returning from Iraq, Sgt. Major Acosta, a father of four, has been a leader in advocating for the needs of returning disabled vets: testifying before Congress, speaking at the White House, and working with injured vets.

Pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Unruh Act, businesses cannot discriminate on the basis of a person's disability. Sgt. Major Acosta will prove that NuVision denied him a loan because he was blind and not on the basis of a legitimate business purpose.

This is "the first time I was made to feel that I was less of a person because of my disability," stated Sgt. Major Acosta. He has been battling depression, anger, and severe episodes of PTSD that cause him great physical and mental anguish, as he relives the helplessness he felt in dealing with NuVision's denial of his loan. Sgt. Major Acosta's anger and depression have turned into a new mission to stop NuVision's discrimination and teach business that discrimination injures returning vets.

Sgt. Major Acosta was referred to civil rights attorney Patricia Barbosa, the founder of Barbosa Group, who has twenty-six years of experience enforcing civil rights. "NuVision's policy—that blind customers must have valid driver’s licenses—is discrimination on its face and violates the ADA and California's Unruh Act," said attorney Barbosa. "I want to vindicate Jesse's belief that he is a full member of society, even if he is disabled," said attorney Barbosa.

The jury trial will be heard by Judge Margaret Morrow in the Roybal Federal Courthouse in Los Angeles October 22-24. "I want NuVision to understand that discrimination is wrong and is not just business as usual," said Sgt. Major Acosta.

Tim Elder says: “For those who saw the press release I posted earlier this week about a trial in Huntington Beach on behalf of a blind veteran denied a loan because he did not have a driver's license, I'm told the jury found in his favor. They awarded him $160,000 in damages. The attorney is also filing proposed changes to the lender's policies for court enforcement.

Any federal jury finding in favor of a blind person is a good thing.”

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