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Consumer Reports

‘Apprentice’ audition rules discriminate, quadriplegic lawyer says | (KRT) A quadriplegic lawyer in St. Louis has a message for Donald Trump's TV show: You're sued!

"The Apprentice" may be entertainment but it also amounts to a protracted job interview, says James W. Schottel Jr., who filed a federal case in St. Louis claiming that audition rules demanding "excellent physical" health are discriminatory.

Representing himself, Schottel wants a preliminary injunction to block the show from holding contestant interviews scheduled for Friday in St. Louis until his case is heard. Beyond that, he wants an order that he "and others similarly situated" be considered for the program.

"I'm a fan of the show, and I'm a fan of Mr. Trump, and I don't think he would support any kind of discrimination," said Schottel, 32.

He filed suit Friday alleging that Trump Productions LLC violates his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Schottel said he is not worried that his case may harm his chances of being selected - or even hired by Trump. "I think that if anything, he would admire me for standing up for what I believe in," he said.

A Trump spokeswoman referred questions to Mark Burnett Productions LLC, a Los Angeles company that produces the show and is a co-defendant in the suit. A Mark Burnett spokesman did not return calls.

Contestants in the popular show on NBC are divided into two competing teams whose moneymaking prowess is tested with a series of small-scale enterprises. Each week, Trump, the famous New York real estate magnate, ceremoniously dismisses a poor performer from the losing team, declaring: "You're fired." The last person left gets a dream job with Trump and a six-figure salary.

Schottel said he has not seen disabled people participate in the show, and he is concerned that the application process is either blocking or discouraging them.

He cites a form that warns applicants, "You must be in excellent physical and mental health," and "meet all physical and psychological requirements." But he said in an interview Tuesday that he has no "hard evidence" of anyone being rejected or discouraged.

Schottel insists that he can perform any role necessary from his wheelchair. " To be a corporate executive, I don't think you need to be able to run 100 yards or run a flight of steps or anything of that nature," he noted.

He grew up in St. Louis and attended Baker University in Kansas, where he kicked a 44-yard field goal in a playoff football game his freshman year. He suffered a spinal cord injury while participating in a fraternity hazing in 1991 in which he said no alcohol was involved.

After receiving a degree in math education, he graduated from the St. Louis University School of Law in 1999. He said his practice includes civil rights and personal injury cases.

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© 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services