The EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan (“SEP”) has, as one of its six national priorities, the elimination of barriers in recruitment and hiring. Lately, the EEOC has seemed to focus upon deafness as a barrier to hiring — or as a reason for termination.
We saw recently that “fears, biases or stereotypes” against people with disabilities is at the core of lawsuits and charges filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”). An EEOC attorney said that “It’s not only bad business to forgo hiring a qualified employee simply because of fears, biases or stereotypes against people with disabilities, it’s also a violation of the law.”
The subject of my December 11th post was a lawsuit by a deaf package handler at UPS who sued the company claiming that he needed an American Sign Language interpreter (“ASL”) at employee meetings and to understand “vital” workplace communications necessary for him to perform his job, such as safety and emergency procedures, company policies and procedures, and other workplace communications.
He claimed that UPS repeatedly failed to provide him with a reasonable accommodation, such as the ASL interpreter which he requested, as required under the ADA.
The EEOC has just announced another new lawsuit filed on behalf of a job applicant who is deaf. The applicant applied online to work for a Missouri McDonald’s (he had worked at a McDonald’s previously – and stated that in his application). When he noted that he had gone to a school for the deaf and the manager learned that he needed a sign language interpreter for his job interview (which his sister volunteered to do) his interview was canceled. He was not hired.
And in 2013, I wrote about a then newly-filed EEOC lawsuit brought on behalf of a hearing-impaired employee who was not given the accommodation of an American Sign Language interpreter, and a second EEOC suit on behalf of a deaf applicant who the company refused to accommodate by providing an interpreter and then failed to hire.
Said an EEOC attorney: “People with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Providing equal employment opportunities to all job applicants – including those with disabilities – is not just the law, it is good for our economy and our workplaces.”
Takeaway: As I have commented before, the ADA provides that an employer must engage in an “interactive process” with an employee (or applicant) who is claiming a disability, towards the end that a reasonable accommodation is provided. That is, it must engage in meaningful discussions as to the proposed accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual. The EEOC, and the courts, have consistently held that an employer has an “affirmative duty” to engage in this interactive process with the employee.