Walmart Accused by U.S. Government of Bias Against Deaf Workers (2)

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By Patrick Dorrian

A Walmart store in Washington allegedly discriminated against two deaf employees by failing to provide them with American Sign Language interpreters and other accommodations, the U.S. government says.

Walmart isn’t the first company sued by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under federal disabilities bias law for allegedly failing to accommodate employees or job applicants with hearing difficulties. Others include McDonald’s, the Cheesecake Factory, and FedEx Ground Package System.

The case against McDonald’s settled for $56,500 and other relief, including modifications to a Missouri restaurant’s online and paper job applications. The one against the Cheesecake Factory settled for $15,000, an agreement to hold managers accountable for violating deaf workers’ job rights, and other relief. The lawsuit against FedEx Ground is ongoing.

The EEOC maintains a service for deaf and hard of hearing workers whose primary language is ASL to assist them in communicating directly with agency staff about suspected job bias.

Both Walmart Workers Profoundly Deaf

Tonya Bland was an overnight stocker during her more than two years working at the store. Troy Miles was a sales associate, merchandise manager, and department manager during his three-year tenure, the EEOC alleges in the June 1 lawsuit against Walmart. Bland is profoundly deaf; Miles is profoundly deaf in one ear and has moderate to severe hearing loss in the other, the agency says.

Both workers needed and asked for ASL interpreters for workplace meetings, the EEOC says. Those included Bland’s daily group meetings, where shift duties and other workplace information were discussed, and Miles’ daily meetings for department managers.

The workers’ requests were denied, despite Walmart’s awareness of their hearing issues. The company also denied Bland’s request for closed-captioning on video presentations and Miles’ request for consistent and thorough note-taking for certain meetings.

That violated the workers’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act to the equal benefits and privileges of employment, the EEOC says.

“It was unlawful to ignore deaf employees’ need for effective reasonable accommodations,” EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in the agency’s June 4 statement announcing the lawsuit. “When employers violate the law, EEOC will hold them accountable,” she said.

“Employers must provide accommodations to deaf and hard-of-hearing employees, so that they can enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment, such as obtaining information disseminated at meetings and participating in meetings,” EEOC’s Mindy Weinstein said in the statement. Weinstein is the acting director of the agency’s Washington field office.

Company Denies Allegations

A Walmart spokesman told Bloomberg Law June 4 that the company doesn’t “tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

“We deny that we failed to provide Mr. Miles or Ms. Bland with reasonable accommodations,” Randy Hargrove said in an email. “Regarding their specific situations, Mr. Miles had been promoted at least twice while working at that store, including to the position of department manager, and we deny that Ms. Bland requested an interpreter. We will respond to the court as appropriate,” Hargrove said.

EEOC attorneys in Washington represent the commission. No attorney has filed an appearance yet for Walmart.

The case is EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores E., Inc., D.D.C., No. 1:18-cv-01314, complaint filed 6/1/18.

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