Paul S. Miller, 49, disability-rights expert fought employment discrimination

By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2010; 1:36 AM

Paul S. Miller graduated at the top of his Harvard Law School class in 1986 and had more than 40 of the nation's most prestigious firms vying for his employment.

But after dozens of interviews, none of the businesses extended offers to Mr. Miller, who stood about 41/2 feet tall He was born with a form of dwarfism.

As Mr. Miller recalled of his hiring process, "one law firm actually told me: 'You seem like a good guy but we're not going to hire you because we think our clients would think we are running a freak circus if they saw you.' "

It was not illegal for employers to make such claims at the time.

Later in his career, Mr. Miller helped change such discrimination as one of the longest-serving commissioners of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and one of the foremost experts in the field of disability rights.

As commissioner, Mr. Miller helped enforce the sweeping Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Among other things, the ADA guaranteed protection to disabled people from discrimination in public- and private-sector employment. He also traveled the world as an EEOC representative on international civil rights cases, such as employment discrimination and affirmative action issues in Israel for Arab citizens.

One of his notable achievements at the EEOC was establishing the national alternative dispute resolution program, which helped address workplace discrimination claims before the cases were sent to court.

"Ultimately, you can't change the world through litigation," Mr. Miller said in 2004. "You have to change hearts and minds and the culture of employment."

Mr. Miller, 49, died of metastatic cancer Oct. 19 at his home on Mercer Island near Seattle, where he taught at the University of Washington law school as an expert on disability rights.

He was born with achondroplasia, the most common condition that results in dwarfism, and was the only member of his family who was not of average height.

"I always knew I wasn't going to be a sports guy," Mr. Miller told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2004. "What I needed to do if I was going to survive was live up to my potential in school."

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School, Mr. Miller found work at a Los Angeles law firm with the help of a friend's brother on the firm's hiring committee.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company