In an ironic reversal of roles the Placer ARC, a nonprofit dedicated to serving individuals with developmental or intellectual disabilities, is now defending itself against a disability discrimination lawsuit. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a complaint against Placer ARC (which stands for Advocacy Resource & Choices) on March 25, alleging that it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide a deaf employee with an interpreter.
According to the EEOC’s complaint the employee, Homeyra Kazerounian, was first hired in Placer ARC’s Auburn office where she was always provided with an interpreter to help her communicate during meetings. However, after transferring to the organization’s Roseville office the employer failed to comply with her requests for an interpreter, and instead required Kazerounian to communicate by writing notes. The EEOC’s attorney David Offen-Brown said that by failing to provide an interpreter she was unable to meaningfully participate in meetings.
Placer ARC released a statement defending themselves from the accusations of discrimination. Executive Director Barbara Guenther wrote that Placer ARC is committed to following employment laws and regulations and “dedicated to the support, education and well-being of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Employees with Disabilities Are Entitled to Reasonable Accommodations
Discrimination under ADA does not just include overt animus or preference for individuals without disabilities. Discrimination can include an employer failing to make reasonable accommodations for the known physical and mental limitations of qualified employees. Reasonable accommodations are necessary unless an employer can prove that the accommodation would have an undue hardship on its business.
According to the EEOC’s representative at one point Placer ARC said that it believed that hiring an interpreter would be too expensive. However, expense in and of itself will not allow an employer to escape liability for discrimination. An employer has a duty to engage in the interactive process once an employee lets the employer know they need accommodation. There are likely a number of solutions short of hiring an interpreter that Placer ARC should have explored. Although since Placer ARC has not yet filed its answer to the complaint we do not yet know exactly what options, if any, were considered.
If you believe that your employer or former employer has discriminated against you because of your disability or perceived disability contact the experienced California employment law attorneys of the Law Offices of Michael S. Cunningham, LLP. Call (951) 213-4786 today to schedule a free case evaluation.