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Accommodation Nation

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Don’t Turn a Deaf Ear to Employee Disabilities

The goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.” Sometimes, however, companies need a not-so-friendly reminder from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) of their reasonable accommodation obligations for ADA-protected employees.

So it was with a Wal-Mart in northwest Washington D.C. that refused to accommodate the needs of two deaf employees, choosing not to furnish close-captioned videos, sign language interpreters, or other accommodations to enable the workers to participate fully in store training, meetings, and the like. See Press Release.

After the EEOC unsuccessfully tried to settle the accommodation issues with Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, it sued this employer.  The parties later consented to a court order requiring the Wal-Mart to pay $100,000 and prohibiting it from further violation of the ADA and retaliation against the employees. The company also must:

  • Amend its management guidelines for reasonable accommodation;
  • Train management on the ADA guidelines for accommodation;
  • Train non-management employees on the ADA and how to seek accommodation;
  • Handle issues that concern accommodation of deaf employees;
  • Post a notice about the settlement; and
  • Report to the EEOC on compliance.

In a statement applicable to any employee disability, Acting Washington Field Office District Director Mindy Weinstein noted “[t]his settlement should encourage all employers to provide reasonable accommodations that allow equal access for deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and applicants to engage fully in the workplace,”

The reasonable accommodation requirement is not absolute; it can be overcome if it causes a company undue hardship, a case by case analysis. However, having close-captioned training videos is unlikely to be accepted as an undue hardship for a company the size of any given Wal-Mart. By making such an accommodation, a company can likely gain a more engaged employee, with both parties benefiting.

See also:

For further information, please contact Tim BowlesCindy Bamforth or Helena Kobrin.

Helena Kobrin

August 23, 2019

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