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The Sound of Silence: Deafness, Accommodations, and the ADA

by | May 14, 2021 | Firm News |

It is easy enough to come up with examples of jobs that a totally deaf person, even one without any sort of mitigating medical devices or partial hearing, could do with hardly any accommodation at all. Anything ranging from entry-level data entry, stocking, or warehouse work to computer-based marketing or design work. However, this does not mean that the process of getting such a position would be as smooth for individuals suffering from hearing loss.

This, of course, can lead to issues such as in the matter recently filed in the U.S. Court for the Central District of Illinois by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In the case of EEOC v. Walmart Stores, Inc., and Walmart Stores East, LP, Civil Action No. 21-cv-02080, the EEOC claims that Kaleb Sleeth applied for a position with the Wal-Mart Store in Decatur, Illinois. Mr. Sleeth was otherwise qualified for the, and in fact Wal-Mart reached out to him in an attempt to set up an interview for the position. However, when Mr. Sleeth requested an interpreter capable of using American Sign Language for the purpose of the employment interview, according to the EEOC, Wal-Mart simply ignored his further inquiries.

Now, there’s a number of things wrong with this. Firstly, it’s rather well-established that providing an interpreter for a job interview (especially in something as relatively common as ASL) is not an unreasonable accommodation in the hiring process. Secondly, from the facts as currently alleged, it’s not even clear that Mr. Sleeth would have required any accommodation in the job position itself, let alone something unusually onerous. For all Wal-Mart knew at the time, he could have just had partial hearing loss and wanted to ensure that he was putting his best foot forward in the interview. It really begins to look like they just didn’t want to have to deal with a deaf applicant, which is precisely the sort of thing that statutes like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (as amended) are meant to prevent.

The somewhat baffling part about all of this is that another Wal-Mart store, this one in Washington, D.C., already had a lawsuit filed against them by the EEOC less than three years ago for failing to provide reasonable accommodation to two deaf employees, a case which resulted in a settlement and a consent decree where that Wal-Mart agreed to make improvements. A big point of contention in that case was the simple lack of closed captioning on training videos so that hearing-impaired employees could ensure that they were doing their jobs properly.

These laws exist for a reason. Individuals with disabilities should be able to find employment without artificial barriers being put in their path as a result of the unfair assumptions, stigmas, or apathy of their employers. If you have requested accommodations of your employer and you feel that you were wrongfully denied, please contact us for a free consultation at (815) 434-3535 or visit us at www.peterferracuti.com.

Attorney Travis Dunn