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Does My Boss Have To Give Me An Interpreter?

On Behalf of | Mar 21, 2019 | Disability Discrimination, Employment Discrimination, Wrongful Termination |

Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Reply: Can someone refuse to interview me just because I’m deaf? Am I protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act because I’m hearing impaired? Does my job have to grant my reasonable accommodation request for an interpreter?

There’s a certain magic to childhood. It is almost indescribable, but distinct nonetheless. Seeing everything for the first time, experiencing life with wonder and amazement. Even the most mundane human experiences like grocery shopping can be exciting for a child. Every new experience is a chance to learn and grow. It’s incredible. If I could have one super power it would be to bottle this energy up and give adults sprinkles of child-like joy and curiosity.

I remember the first time I witnessed a conversation communicated in sign language. I was at the grocery store with my mother and I noticed two young teenagers moving their hands very quickly. I was so confused at first, but my confusion quickly turned curiosity. Then, I was amazed. There wasn’t a single spoken word exchanged between the two, yet somehow, it seemed like they were having the world’s largest and most complicated debate about which potato chips they should purchase. I was determined to learn more about this secret code that the two teenagers knew but I didn’t. As a child, my mother gave me “teach yourself sign language” books. I practiced diligently, determined to crack this secret code.

My interest and adoration only grew when I was in undergrad. I had the opportunity to take American Sign Language as my foreign language and it opened my eyes to a whole new culture within America. I learned a great deal about the language but also the cultural side of American Sign Language and deaf communities. For instance, prior to taking my sign language course, I had no idea that American Sign Language is a romantic language. Finally! The secret code that I was so determined to learn, was finally in my reach!

In college, I had many deaf professors and a few friends with hearing impairments. One of the most important lessons that I learned from them is that what one person considers a disability, another considers a blessing. All my deaf professors repeatedly stressed that there’s no real difference between deaf people and hearing people. They just learned to communicate a little differently. I’m grateful for this experience because it truly changed my perspective on what “disability” means and gave me a new awareness for how society treats disabled people. This new awareness is one of the driving forces that motivates me to get up every day and go to work. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the same opportunity to confront their own preconceived notions about disability. Many employers and bosses are still under the impression that a disability poses an obstacle in the workplace that will slow down production, operations, and cut into profits. Indeed, this is a problem that our disability discrimination attorneys have regularly encountered and blogged about in the past. (See Can My Boss Block Deaf Employees From Operating Machinery? I Need A Lawyer!; Can My Boss Fire Deaf People As A Safety Precaution? I Need A Lawyer!; I’m Deaf And My Job Won’t Provide Sign Language For Training. Can I Sue? I Need I Disability Discrimination Lawyer!).
Best Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney Reply: Can someone refuse to interview me just because I’m deaf? Am I protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act because I’m hearing impaired?
The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. The ADA also prohibits an employer from retaliating against an applicant or employee for asserting his rights under the ADA. Nearly every aspect of employment is covered. As our employment discrimination lawyers have blogged about before, an employer can’t change recruitment, pay, hiring, firing, promotion, job assignments, training, leave, lay-offs, and benefits just because of a person’s disability. (See Can A Schedule Change Be An ADA Accommodation?; Disability Discrimination: Why Getting An ADA Attorney Early Is Important; My Employer Is Discriminating Against Me Based On My Disability. I Need A Lawyer!).

Employment discrimination may take several forms. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when discrimination happens. Other times, it’s obvious. Common examples of discrimination against deaf people include:

  • Employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation such as a qualified interpreter;
  • Employee is harassed because they are hard of hearing or deaf;
  • Employer retaliates against an employee because they requested a reasonable accommodation;
  • Employer retaliates against an employee because they filed an employment discrimination complaint.

According to the ADA, a reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment to enable a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal shot at employment. Everyone deserves to start out on a level playing field, right? It is illegal for an employer to deny a reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified applicant or employee with a disability. Courts have held that reasonable accommodations for deaf employees include telecommunication devises, amplified telephones, visual alarms, assistive listening systems, and for deaf employees who rely on sign language, qualified interpreter services.

This recent court case demonstrates how deaf Americans are still unfairly discriminated against. A man named Nathaniel Prugh sued Jackson Food Stores, for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Nathan applied online for a Customer Services Representative position at Jackson Food Store. A store manager for Jackson Food Stores called Nathan to set up the interview. Jackson Food Store reviewed Nathan’s application and decided to extend him an interview based on his qualifications and experience. Nathan informed the store manager that he was deaf and that he needed an interpreter. The store manager immediately denied Nathan’s request for an interpreter and told him that his interview was cancelled. Jackson Food Stores refused to interview hire Nathan because he was deaf. This type of disability discrimination clearly violates the ADA. Importantly, in this case, there is no room for confusion. There was no pretext (false reason given by an employer). The only conclusion is that the refusal to hire was based on the disability.

In addition to have a straight-out disability discrimination claim, refusing to hire or firing a worker because of his or her disability, the ADA also provides another type of claim for failure to accommodate. Our regular disability discrimination blog readers know that in order to have a potential cause of action for failure to accommodate under the ADA, the employee or applicant must request a reasonable accommodation. (See How Do I Get A Reasonable Accommodation?).

That is exactly what Nathan did. Nathan’s case was so strong because he was upfront and asked for the accommodation.

A big factor favoring a failure to accommodate claim is that the employer did not engage in what the ADA calls the interactive process. (See Best Disability Discrimination Lawyer Answer: What Is My Job Required To Do Once I Notify Them Of My Disability?). The interactive process is a requirement that the employer engage in a back and forth dialog to figure out what accommodation may work for both the employer and employee. The refusal by an employer to engage in the interactive process is, in and of itself, a violation of the ADA.

Jackson Food Stores’ only hope in this case was to attempt to prove that providing an interpreter would pose an undue hardship and that the interactive process would have been a waste of time because there was no accommodation that they could feasibly provide.

Undue hardship means that an accommodation would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. When determining whether an accommodation is an undue hardship, courts will consider the cost of the accommodation, the size of the employer, financial resources and the nature and structure of the operation.

What may constitute an undue hardship for one company, may be a required reasonable accommodation for another. For example, a request for a full-time sign language interpreter for a customer service representative who works for a fortune 500 company, is likely a reasonable request. The company has lots of resources, the nature of the job requires a lot of communication with customers and financial resources are typically deep at a fortune 500 company. In this scenario, it would not be an undue hardship for the company to provide a full-time interpreter for the employee.

However, if we tweak the scenario, there is a very different answer. Let’s say that the deaf employee works for a locally owned bakery. This bakery only has 16 employees. That completely changes the outcome of whether the request causes undue hardship. It’s likely that a court won’t find that the company was required to grant the request because the financial resources required to provide a full-time interpreter would cause the company hardship.

Critically, even if there a company can show that there is an undue financial hardship, the employer is still not allowed to fire or refuse to hire the employee. When dealing with a financial undue hardship, the ADA then requires the employer the requirement to offer the employee to pay for the accommodation or get outside funding for such an accommodation. Thus, in our baking example, if an interpreter was only needed for meetings once per week for training or meetings, but the bakery could not afford it, the employer could not fire the employee if the employee was willing to provide an interpreter or could get free video conferencing translations services as needed.

The main take away from Nathan’s case is that he wasn’t even given the chance to be fairly considered because of his disability. That’s illegal, plain and simple. Jackson Food Store violated the ADA when it illegally took Nathan’s disability into consideration when choosing to not hire him, and again violated the ADA by refusing to even consider any potential accommodations. Every person deserves a fair chance at landing a job.

Nathan sued Jackson Food Stores. The case settled for $88,000. In addition, as a term of the settlement Jackson Food Stores must train their employees on the ADA and how to avoid discrimination. Senior trial attorney for Nathan, May Che, explained, “Congress enacted the ADA to ensure that employers evaluate candidates based on individual merit rather than assumptions about what people with disabilities can or cannot do. This settlement helps ensure that qualified workers like Mr. Prugh have a level playing field and can participate in the workforce to their fullest ability.”

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said it best:

“The Americans with Disabilities Act gave more than 50 million Americans with disabilities, just like my son, Cole, the chance to live the American Dream and be defined only by their potential—not their limitations.”

The ADA was meant to be a shield that guards the American Dream for those in society who may be put down or wrote off because of their perceived disability. Some of the strongest among us are those who are written off by society because of their disability, race, gender, etc. Those who are scrappy and have to hustle to overcome their disabilities are the employees that I want on my team. Other employers should get hip to this reality and put their preconceived notions aside.

Discrimination, like disabilities, come in many different forms and varieties. However, our employment law attorneys are well versed and ready for the job.

Having to live with a hearing impairment is difficult enough without worrying about the effect it may have on your job or ability to find a job. If you are hearing impaired, disabled in some other manner, or your employer perceives you as being disabled; and you have been fired, wrongfully terminated, discriminated against, demoted, wrongfully disciplined, denied wages, or even think that you might need a disability discrimination lawyer, then call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. The best option is to get help right now. Call our office at 866-797-6040. Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, and its attorneys are experienced and dedicated to protecting disabled employees’ rights under ADA and Ohio employment law.


This employment discrimination and wrongful termination law website is an advertisement. The disability discrimination materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or establishing an attorney-client relationship. If you are still asking, “how do I get a work accommodation for my disability?”, “am I considered disabled under the ADA?”, “what should I do if I was fired today because my supervisor thinks I’m disabled and cannot do my job?” or “can my boss fired me in retaliation for requesting an accommodation?”, it would be best for you to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to disability discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, attorney, Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.

Tags: I’m deaf, My Boss, Interpreter, Best, Ohio, Employment Discrimination, Attorney, interview, protected, Americans with Disabilities Act, hearing impaired, accommodation, accommodation request, sign language, hearing impairments, disability, hearing, communicate, disabled, employers, bosses, workplace, ADA, qualified, retaliating, applicant, employee, lawyers, hiring, firing, promotion, assignments, training, harassed, hard of hearing, illegal, telecommunication, amplified, manager, denied, pretext, disability discrimination claim, refusing to hire, failure to accommodate, interactive process, undue hardship, perceives, how do I get, work, am I considered disabled, cannot do my job, retaliation, Brian Spitz, Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Cincinnati

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