Ninth Circuit: Triable Issue on Accommodation of Hearing Impaired

The EEOC brought suit against UPS Supply Chain Solutions for failing to accommodate a hearing impaired employee. The employee, Mauricio Centeno, was deaf since birth and American Sign Language was his primary language.

He was able to do his job in accounting without a sign language interpreter. But he asked for an interpreter at company meetings. The employer offered post-meeting recaps in writing and contemporaneous notes during the meetings. He also wanted an interpreter's help with respect to certain job training and to understand the company's sexual harassment policy.

The district court granted UPS' motion for summary judgment because, it found, UPS had engaged in an interactive process with Centeno and had provided accommodations that were sufficient to enable Centeno to understand what transpired at meetings, etc.

But the court of appeals reversed. The appellate court held it was a genuine dispute of fact regarding whether the accommodations were effective. The court decided that agendas, contemporaneous notes, and summaries in English were not necessarily sufficient substitutes for a sign language interpreter. The court was especially concerned because Centeno was not proficient at written English, but the court also said it would be a triable issue even if Centeno were fluent in English.

Similarly, the court held that UPS may have failed to accommodate Centeno by delaying Excel training. Centeno claimed he could not read the online training program and required an interpreter. UPS ultimately provided him one, but two years later.

Centeno also complained he did not understand the company's anti-harassment policy and training materials because he was not given a sign language interpreter to read them. The court held that Centeno's professed lack of comprehension was sufficient to put UPS on notice that an accommodation was necessary.

This case raises the bar for employers who employ hearing impaired employees. Even when the hearing impaired can perform essential job functions without interpreters, they may be necessary so the employee can enjoy the "benefits and privileges" of employment.

The opinion is EEOC v. UPS Supply Chain Solutions and the opinion is here.