Bank of America Corporation may need an interpreter to explain the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements to them. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) apparently has volunteered! The EEOC recently filed suit against the banking giant for allegedly violating federal law when it denied a deaf worker’s repeated reasonable accommodation requests for a sign language interpreter and then fired her due to her disability.
The deaf employee had worked in the Las Vegas facility of Bank of America since 1998. Her former supervisor could communicate with her in American Sign Language (ASL). However, new management in 2003 could not communicate with her in ASL. The deaf worker made multiple requests for a sign language interpreter so she could better understand the content of meetings, job-related training, and personnel actions. The Bank allegedly cited the high cost to accommodate as the justification for denial of the requests. In 2010, she was discharged from her duties. Even this final disciplinary action was also communicated to her without the use of a sign language interpreter.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with disabilities, unless such a provision is an undue hardship on the employer. The term ‘undue hardship’ indicates a significant difficulty or expense. Amy Burkholder, a director in the Las Vegas Local Office of the EEOC, said, “Denying basic accommodations to employees with disabilities diminishes their productivity. On the other hand, the cost of accommodations, which is typically very minimal, is often offset by the gains in productivity.”
Also required by the ADA is an “interactive process” by which the employer (usually the frontline supervisor) and the individual with the disability have an open dialogue regarding any type of reasonable accommodation the employee needs to perform the essential functions of their job. Employers should make this communication a priority.
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