When employers describe Bryan Drummond, they use superlatives like best salesman, excellent work habits and great on the phone.
He speaks intelligently and has a bachelor's degree, a professional manner and an electric smile.
Despite these attractive attributes, Drummond sometimes has a hard time finding a job. Ask him why and in his rugged rush of words lies the answer. It's because he stutters.
"I get angry when people say I can't do something or people say my speech is a problem when I know it's not," said Drummond, who can breeze through many sentences without a bobble, only to get stuck on a word or two.
He was asked to quit a job helping patients at a psychiatric hospital because of his stutter, he said. At a store where he applied for work, he was called "a time-consuming commodity," he said.
Last November, Drummond said, he was invited to a job interview at the Capital Care Health Maintenance Organization in Fairfax County after a personnel employee read his re'sume'. But after a telephone conversation with the employee, Drummond said, he was told the job was filled.
Drummond responded by filing a complaint against the HMO with the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission. The job, which entailed discussing the HMO's benefits over the telephone, is something Drummond says he can do. The company declined to comment.
For many of the more than 2 million Americans who stutter, success in the workplace has come in accounting or other jobs that require little talking. Drummond will have none of that.
Sitting behind a desk in the back of an office "would just drive me crazy if I didn't have any personal contact with anyone," said Drummond, 30, who usually has had two jobs while attending graduate school at the University of Baltimore.
"I know because of my speech there are things I would not be able to do," the Baltimore resident said. "Would you see me as an operator on a 911 line or in a life-or-death situation? I would never put myself in that kind of job. Can you see me at an airport trying to get planes down on the ground safely and I stutter? I can't imagine it."
Experts on stuttering said they know of only two or three discrimination complaints such as Drummond's nationwide.
State law and Fairfax County ordinances prohibit an employer from discriminating against an otherwise qualified person solely because he or she has a disability. Nationally, House and Senate conferees are working on legislation that would include the disabled under the umbrella of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
However, a problem arises in interpreting the laws to determine whether a disability is severe enough to deem a person unqualified for certain jobs, experts said. For example, a blind person cannot fly an airplane, but probably could work in telephone sales.
"Sometimes it's very difficult, whether a person's stuttering prevents him from performing a job or being successful at the job," said Fred Allen, executive director of Fairfax County's Human Rights Commission. "It goes back to whether the person is understandable."
Allen said he couldn't comment specifically on Drummond's case, but he recalled another case the commission heard involving a person whose job was to respond to emergencies by phone. The person spoke with a dialect and his employer wanted to fire him.
"We didn't have a problem listening to him," Allen said, but he added that such cases are "a very difficult judgment call."
In his case, Drummond said, a Capital Care employee asked him in for an interview on the strength of his re'sume', which listed several sales jobs, particularly telephone sales. When the employee found out that Drummond stuttered, he said the job had been filled, Drummond said.
Drummond later had his aunt call Capital Care and inquire about the job. She was told it was still open and that she should apply, he said. Drummond said he called Capital Care back and was told by the personnel employee's supervisor that he wouldn't be able to handle the job because of his stutter.
Tappan Wilder, director of communications for Capital Care, said, "We don't comment on personnel issues, and that's all we can really say about this."
Drummond currently does fund-raising and sells theater subscriptions and tickets part-time by phone for Arena Stage.
"He's one of the best salesmen we have," said Don Hawley, Arena's telemarketing manager. "His work habits are excellent."
David Amussen, manager of Adcom Inc., an art supply store in Baltimore, said Drummond "worked for us talking in the customer-service department over the phone. We never had a complaint. He was helpful. He knew his job."
A division exists among the experts about what kind of work people who stutter can do.
Lorraine Schneider, administrative director of the National Center for Stuttering in New York, said many people who stutter avoid high-profile jobs. "They know their weakness and they go into an area where they will be strong," she said.
John Ahlbach, executive director of the National Stuttering Project in San Francisco, said people who stutter should strive to do all kinds of work. "I taught school for 12 years," he said. "I stuttered in front of classes of 10-year-olds and 18-year-olds, and I can count on my hand the number of kids who ever tried to make fun of me.
"I'm not saying stuttering should not be a factor in hiring someone for a job. I would be a terrible newscaster," Ahlbach said. The bottom line, he said, is how well a person communicates overall.
There is no consensus on what causes stuttering. Schneider said people who stutter tend to focus their tension in the muscles of the larynx. Ahlbach said no one knows why for sure.
Drummond said he has been given "10,000 reasons" why. He can't explain it, nor can he say how he is able to sing without stuttering, which enabled him to join his college gospel and concert choirs.
But most of his experiences have not been so harmonious. Once, on a dinner date, a waitress grew so impatient with him that she turned to his date and asked, "What does he want?" He angrily told her that his date had no way of knowing what he wished to order.
Since graduating in 1982 from Towson State University with an undergraduate degree in psychology, Drummond has worked in counseling, first with the Baltimore Association for Retarded Citizens for six years and now with the D.C. Association for Retarded Citizens as a caseworker.
Now Drummond, who is studying publication design in graduate school, says he wants the challenge of marketing.
"I think in the business world they want people who speak well and are fluent," he said. "I speak well, that's not a problem. But sometimes I'm not fluent. I would like to think that's not going to be a big problem, but so far that's not been the case."