Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Deaf woman sues Florida hospital over denied request for sign language interpreter

From The News Service of Florida:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The Florida Human Relations Commission must determine whether a Hialeah hospital meets the legal definition of a public establishment so it can be determined whether it should have provided a sign-language interpreter to a deaf patient, a state appeals court ruled Dec. 28.

The case, before the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee, asks whether a hospital, in this case Palmetto General Hospital, is a ``public accommodation'' for purposes of the Florida Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in places determined to be public accommodations.

The plaintiff, Maura Mena, brought a discrimination complaint, alleging that her request for a sign-language interpreter was denied.

The Human Relations Commission, where Mena filed the complaint, dismissed it on various grounds, but primarily because it said hospitals aren't covered as public accommodations under the Civil Rights Act. The act lists several public accommodations, and hospitals aren't on the list. But an establishment ``principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premises'' is.

Mena argued that the hospital cafeteria qualified the entire hospital as a public establishment because of another section of the law that says that any establishment that has in it a public accommodation qualifies if it ``holds itself out as serving patrons of such covered establishment.''

Mena, and her lawyer, Matthew Dietz, argued that Palmetto General should qualify, and should have been required to provide an interpreter. Dietz and other lawyers involved in the case didn't immediately return calls for comments.

The commission has made a ruling on this issue before, saying that hospitals aren't primarily engaged in selling food, even if they have a cafeteria, and therefore don't qualify.

But a three-judge panel of the 1st DCA on Tuesday said whether the particular hospital is qualified depends on whether it ``holds itself out as serving patrons'' of the cafeteria. And that question of fact must be answered before the court can rule, the panel said, sending the case back to the Human Relations Commission to determine the answer.