Nov 142010

From, 11/5/10

A deaf worker whose first and primary language is American Sign Language (ASL) struggled to understand written and spoken English. A court had to decide whether, by not providing an ASL interpreter for certain staff meetings, disciplinary sessions, and training, his employer had failed to reasonably accommodate his disability.

What Happened

“Carlos”, who has been deaf since birth, worked as a junior clerk in the accounts payable division of a UPS facility in Gardena, California, from 2001 until 2009.  His supervisors were aware of his limited English proficiency.

Although Carlos was able to perform his job duties without the assistance of an ASL interpreter, he had trouble comprehending the company’s sexual harassment policy, completing job training, and understanding discussions during weekly department and monthly division meetings.

During meetings, his direct supervisor took notes in English—covering only the main points of the meeting—and later emailed them to Carlos.

Carlos did not understand at least some of the notes, and he did not like getting the information after the meeting, because he was unable to ask questions or share his own ideas with co-workers.

On many occasions from 2002 through 2005, he requested that the company provide an ASL interpreter at meetings—or at least a contemporaneous record of the meetings. So, the company had an employee sit with Carlos and write out notes during the meeting. However, the employee was unable to write everything down, and Carlos did not understand some of what was written.

Carlos stopped attending the weekly meetings after April 2005. In July 2006, UPS started regularly providing an ASL interpreter for monthly meetings.

The company provided an interpreter for a March 2007 meeting between Carlos and HR, during which he requested an interpreter at all team meetings that lasted more than 15 minutes. He reiterated the fact that he had trouble understanding some written communications.

Although his supervisors regularly instructed him to use an English-language dictionary to look up words he did not understand, that was not an effective remedy for him.

During his first few years of employment with UPS, his supervisors repeatedly recommended that he take training in Microsoft Excel® to improve his skills. In April 2005, he told his supervisors that he could not read the online training program for Excel. Two years passed before UPS provided an ASL interpreter to help Carlos complete Excel training.

For the complete story, including the ruling in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. UPS Supply Chain Solutions (No. 08-56874) (U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Cir., 8/27/10):

– Thanks to NVRC, Fairfax