Each employee has the right to a workplace that is free from hostility and mistreatment. Yet, deaf employees in Florida face discriminatory treatment based on their disability every day. If you are deaf and experiencing discrimination on the basis of your disability, you may benefit from learning that you have certain workplace rights to help prevent future discrimination.

Does the Americans with Disabilities Act provide protections for deaf employees?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. This means that your employer cannot fire you or refuse to hire you
if your deafness substantially limits a major life activity, you have a history of deafness, or you are regarded as having a disability based on your deafness. To be eligible for such ADA protections, you must be qualified for the job and show that you are able to perform the essential functions of the job. To prove your job qualifications, you must show that you have the necessary skills, training, or degree in the field.

Sometimes, the ADA allows you to obtain reasonable accommodations from your employer for your disability. Deaf employees can obtain a number of potential reasonable accommodations including:

(1) A sign language interpreter;
(2) Assistive listening systems;
(3) Visual alerts in place of audible alerts;
(4) Insurance; and
(5) Appropriate written memos and notes

Remember that this list is not exhaustive, and an employee can request other types of reasonable accommodation consistent with their needs. While this list of potential reasonable accommodations is commonly requested by employees, an employer can refuse to provide such
accommodation if it proves to be significantly difficult or expensive. However, the employer may choose to provide an easier or less expensive accommodation if it can meet the employee’s needs.

A good example of this concept of undue hardship comes from the case of Searls v. Johns Hopkins Hosp., 158 F. Supp. 3d 427 (D. Md. 2016). In Searls, Johns Hopkins Hospital rescinded a job offer to a nurse with a hearing impairment. The nurse wanted a sign language interpreter as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. However, the hospital claimed that hiring the interpreter would be too expensive and would result in laying off two nurses to accommodate the
cost. The court rejected the hospital’s claim because it stated that the cost of the interpreter would not pose an undue hardship. It reasoned that hiring the interpreter would only account for less than a percent of the hospital’s entire budget. Therefore, the hospital’s claim that hiring an interpreter would be too expensive is entirely without merit and does not constitute an undue hardship.

What can you do if you are facing discrimination based on your hearing disability?

If your employer refuses to provide reasonable accommodations or you feel you are being
discriminated against based on your hearing disability, you should make note of the following:

(1) The date of the incident;
(2) The witnesses present at the time of the incident; and
(3) The words and conduct of everyone involved with the incident

Before pursuing a legal action for discrimination, make sure you exhaust all options available to you through the company. You can do so by following your company’s procedure regarding an internal complaint. However, if you are unsure how to approach this, you can consult with your company’s human resources department for further guidance.

If the discriminatory behavior persists, it can be beneficial for you to sit down with an experienced employment discrimination attorney to help determine whether you have a prima facie case of discrimination.

If you believe that you may have a claim for discrimination in the workplace, please do not hesitate to contact Printy&Printy P.A. online or call (813) 434-0649 for a free consultation.