Obama campaign refused to hire man because he has Lou Gehrig’s disease, couldn’t relocate to Chicago

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign refused to hire a Missouri man because he has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Jeff Lester, who was diagnosed with ALS in 1993, said he has emails that prove the campaign refused to make accommodations for his disability and give him a shot to work for the presidential candidate he’s supported since 2008.

Lester told The Daily Caller that in April 2012 he “received an email inviting me to apply for the Obama campaign Data Academy (after the training for six weeks paying jobs would be offered to top performers) and applied for it since I fulfilled all the job requirements except travel.”

“I explicitly stated on my application that I was disabled and could not travel yet I was accepted into their academy with about 100 others,” Lester said in an email to TheDC. “I then attended the first week’s training.”

Lester, who is unable to speak but can communicate through email, said that during one session in that first week, “they talked about travel.”

“[I] wanted to make sure that I was not wasting my time so I emailed them to check [that] they understood I was disabled,” Lester said.

“I enjoyed the session tonight,” Lester said he wrote to two Obama campaign staffers. “I will be unable to complete this week’s assignment because my disability effects my speech (I have ALS and I am on a ventilator) therefore is there an alternative for me to obtain my data?”

“Based on tonight’s session I do believe I have the necessary skill set and even unique perspective to help with the campaign,” Lester said he added in his email to the Obama campaign staff.

“However, my condition does prevent any sort of travel since it is an ordeal just for me of to leave my home to even attend one of my daughter’s school events or go to the doctor. You can get a better picture of my situation on getjefflestertograduation.com or on Facebook. So my question is, is there a realistic shot at a position for me in the campaign given that I can only work virtually? Thanks for a forthright response. Be well and happy!”

According to Lester, Obama campaign staffer Lena Tom responded that the campaign would not help accommodate his disability.

“I don’t immediately have another assignment for this week on hand, but per your bigger question on being able to work virtually – that’s probably not a realistic option,” Tom wrote back, according to Lester. “We know very well the importance of in person communication for this campaign, as things tend to move very quickly. I can’t speak specifically to your disability and how that would or would not present challenges, but ultimately you would likely be asked to relocate for a job with us.”

“If relocating is something you are unable to do, you are still welcome to attend the rest of the academy and we can talk about volunteer options where you can work remotely,” he said that Tom added.

After this article was first published, Lester provided TheDC with complete copies of the emails.

He told TheDC he was “shocked” at the campaign’s response.

“In today’s telecommunication driven society, it is quite simple to accommodate for a disability for a job whose primary focus is dealing with data,” Lester emailed to TheDC. “The worse part, they made no attempt at accommodation.”

Lester said he wants people with disabilities to be treated fairly and have the same opportunities as everyone else, especially when modern technology allows for it.

“I fervently supported the Obama campaign in 2008 and had planned to support them this election cycle but this incident dampened my enthusiasm,” Lester told TheDC. “My politics are driven by what I believe will best support the ALS community. I was a Republican until 2002 when several Republican initiatives on the national and my state level damaged the ALS community in my opinion so I could no longer actively support them. Given my public support for President Obama, there is no possible way anyone could think I am out to get the campaign.”

Lester is now 46 years old and has “been basically a quadriplegic on a ventilator since 1997.”

“I am not someone who expects anything that I have not earned and I want to be a valuable contributor to whatever organization or project I am involved with,” he said. “What’s unacceptable and disheartening in this case is that I had no chance to prove myself and absolutely no attempt was made to give me that chance by the Obama campaign.”

Lester has proven he can do remarkable things. He made headlines in 2011 as an example of someone with ALS living a successful life. USA Today reported then that Lester’s “determination remains intact” and that he was “on track to earn two master’s degrees from the University of Michigan-Dearborn.”

His friends and family built him a website titled “Get Jeff Lester to Graduation.” Despite his disease and the need to telecommute for the degrees, Lester  graduated with honors.

Obama campaign spokespersons have not responded to TheDC’s request for comment.

This article was updated after publication to reflect that Lester provided TheDC with complete copies of the relevant emails.

Follow Matthew on Twitter

Matthew Boyle