The supermarket giant Safeway has settled a lawsuit brought by a deaf job applicant who says that the company failed to provide an interpreter for him when he applied for a job with the company. According to media, the company agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suit alleging that the company violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) when it did not provide an interpreter for applicant Joel Sibert.
Sibert, says the EEOC, applied for several jobs at the Seattle Safeway store via the internet. Sibert was initially selected for an interview, but after explaining that he needed an interpreter due to his deafness, the hiring manager in the store allegedly told Sibert that she didn’t know how to accommodate him. Sibert was not contacted again by the store, and when he called the store to make queries about his application, the store reportedly dodged his calls. Ultimately, Safeway hired several hearing people to fill the positions to which Sibert applied.
In addition to paying the $75,000, Safeway also agreed to a revision of its career website to make it easier for applicants to request accommodation in compliance with the ADA. It also agreed to distribute its newly modified accommodation policy to its employees annually and to ensure that any recruiters for the store were knowledgeable about its obligations under the ADA.
In a statement issued after the agreement, the EEOC says to reject a qualified applicant due to a disability is a violation of ADA. Under the law, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for qualified applicants, provided doing so does not create an “undue hardship.” Providing an interpreter is considered “often reasonable” under the EEOC’s enforcement guidance.
The EEOC, in its enforcement guidance for reasonable accommodation, actually presents a hypothetical situation that is similar to Sibert’s. The EEOC outlines a scenario in which a job applicant requires a sign language interpreter for a job interview; the interview was then canceled by the employer, who believed if they hire the applicant, he would require a full-time interpreter. The EEOC says the employer should have proceeded with the interview if doing so did not present an undue hardship, making use of an interpreter in order to find out “to what extent the individual would need a sign language interpreter to perform any essential functions” of the job.
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