Disability nonprofit to pay more than  million for allegedly failing to provide adequate facilities for deaf employees
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Disability nonprofit to pay more than $1 million for allegedly failing to provide adequate facilities for deaf employees

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Brief description of the dive:

  • Didlake, a nonprofit government organization that employs people with disabilities, will pay $1,017,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging it failed to provide adequate accommodations for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and fired employees who requested but were not eligible for sick leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced July 1.
  • According to the complaint in EEOC v. Didlake, Inc.The Washington-based company allegedly failed to interact in good faith with hearing-impaired cleaning and maintenance workers and provided them with communication accommodations, including American Sign Language interpreters, so they could understand and participate in training sessions, mandatory safety meetings and one-on-one meetings with management.
  • Didlake also allegedly failed to engage in an interactive process and fired eligible disabled individuals who needed medical leave but did not qualify for FMLA, despite the availability of unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation, the lawsuit said. These actions allegedly violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the complaint.

Diving Insight:

The ADA does not expressly require employers to engage in an interactive process, but this process is preferred when making reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities required by the ADA, provided there is no undue hardship.

Employers can take a cue from a July 2023 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The 4th Circuit held that UPS properly evaluated and denied accommodation requests from a driver with lower back pain who requested a smaller truck or an “inside” job that did not require driving.

UPS sought information from the driver’s medical provider and met with him to discuss his requests, according to the minutes. After the meeting, UPS determined there were no internal job offers and that the second request would violate his collective bargaining agreement. UPS placed him on unpaid leave until he returned to work, and the 4th Circuit found that his actions were ADA-compliant.

The EEOC’s recently updated guidance on the ADA and hearing disabilities addresses some of the accommodation issues raised in Lake Didake thing.

For example, the guidelines explain that a project manager who can lip-read to communicate one-on-one with colleagues should be provided with a certified sign language interpreter, unless doing so would constitute an undue hardship, at conferences and large group meetings, because the manager would not be able to use lip-reading when people who are not in his or her line of sight are speaking.

The EEOC found that Didlake, a contractor for Ability One, failed to meet its ADA obligations when its manager, who was not a professional or certified interpreter, tried to translate for hearing-impaired workers. The written materials it distributed to workers were difficult to read and did not include all the information in meetings, and it also failed to provide adequate support, the agency said.

The guidelines point out that these and other alternatives, such as asking a co-worker to take notes, are not effective because they do not allow the hearing-impaired employee to ask questions and participate in discussions as other employees do.

Under a court-approved settlement order, Didlake must implement an additional reasonable accommodation policy that requires the company to engage in an interactive process with applicants and employees when it receives notice of the need for an accommodation.

According to the consent decree, the cash payments include $62,500 to an employee Didlake allegedly fired because she was ineligible for FMLA benefits when she needed leave at the end of a high-risk pregnancy to undergo and recover from a cesarean section.

The payments also include $70,000 to the estate of an employee who was allegedly fired because she was hospitalized for several days and did not qualify for FMLA leave. Didlake also allegedly refused to rehire her with accommodations she requested because of a recurrence of cervical cancer, the EEOC reported.