The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Toys "R" Us, Inc. for alleged disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. A deaf woman applied for a job at the toy retailer's store in Columbia, MD. She was denied a sign language interpreter for her interview and the store refused to hire her despite her qualifications and ability to do the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. I asked JAN expert Linda Batiste some questions about this case:

  1. Is the implication that it's reasonable for a company to hire an interpreter any time a job applicant needs it?

    The implication is that under the ADA providing an interpreter is a reasonable accommodation which a company must consider on a case-by case basis. The ultimate goal is effective communication during the job interview, and in some cases this means an interpreter, if no undue hardship is involved.

    The problem that Toys "R" Us ran into was flat out refusing to provide an interpreter for the job interview without offering an alternative method of communication. Instead, the applicant was instructed to provide her own accommodation. I saw no indication that Toy "R" Us claimed undue hardship.

  2. What if a company interviews 10 people for a low wage job and hires only one. What if two of the applicants are deaf? Do they need to provide one for each candidate?

    In some cases, an employer might have to consider hiring an interpreter for each applicant who is deaf. The Toys "R" Us case involved a group interview, and perhaps in such a situation only one interpreter would be needed. However, whether it's one or multiple interpreters, most job interviews don't last more than an hour, so the actual expense might not be that much, especially for a large company.

  3. If hired, what would be the company's obligation to provide an interpreter then? That interpreter could cost more per hour than the employee.

    If hired, the employer would have to assess the need for an interpreter on a case-by-case basis. For some jobs it might be minimal; others it might be more extensive. Again, the key would be effective communication; and, for some jobs, that can be done in other ways besides an interpreter. Under the ADA, employers should probably not try to make the argument that an interpreter would get paid more an hour than the deaf applicant. This isn't generally accepted as meeting the undue hardship defense.

My take: Nothing drives employers nuts more than the ADA's "case-by -case" analysis. Although larger companies might absorb such expenses readily, it could be an undue burden on smaller firms. The best answer is to get professional advice in such circumstances.

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