Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Federal appeals court: UPS may have unlawfully discriminated by failing to provide ASL interpreters to deaf worker

From Business Insurance:

SAN FRANCISCO — A United Parcel Service of America Inc. unit may have unlawfully discriminated against a deaf worker by failing to provide American Sign Language interpreters, a federal appeals court ruled August 27.

According to the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vs. UPS Supply Chain Solutions, Mauricio Centeno worked as junior clerk in the accounts payable division of the UPS facility in Gardena, Calif. Mr. Centeno has been deaf since birth, and American Sign Language was his first and primary language, while his English reading and writing skills were at a fourth- or fifth-grade level, according to the opinion.

Among Mr. Centeno's complaints was that Atlanta-based UPS failed to fully accommodate him by providing an American Sign Language interpreter at all meetings. Instead, at some meetings the company would provide what he considered “inadequate” summaries later that failed to give him the opportunity to participate during the meetings.

In 2006, the EEOC filed a complaint on Mr. Centeno's behalf alleging that UPS engaged in unlawful employment practices by failing to reasonably accommodate his deafness. In 2008, a district court granted UPS' motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.

In overturning the district court ruling, the appeals court panel said an employer “has discretion to choose among effective modifications, and need not provide the employee with the accommodation he or she requests or prefers, but an employer cannot satisfy its obligations under the (Americans with Disabilities Act) by providing an ineffective modification.

“Whereas here, there is a disputed issue of fact regarding whether the modifications the employer selected were effective, and where the trier of fact could reasonably conclude that the employer was aware or should have been aware that those modifications were not effective, summary judgment is not appropriate,” the appeals court panel ruled in remanding the case for further proceedings.

Jennifer S. Goldstein, an appellate attorney with the EEOC's office of general counsel in Washington who had argued the case, said, “I think it's important to reaffirm that even for an employee who can perform his job duties without an accommodation, that the law still requires that he be able to…enjoy the benefits and privileges of the workplace,” and that employers may therefore have to make reasonable accommodations to ensure the disabled employee can participate equally.

“We believe UPS did offer reasonable accommodation by providing an interpreter for all major meetings and then a note-taker for other meetings to assist this employee, and the district court agreed when they granted us summary judgment,” a UPS spokeswoman said. “UPS has a strong record of providing reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.”

She said the company will review the decision and evaluate its options.