- An Indiana Subway franchisee violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it refused to hire an applicant with a hearing impairment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed Sept. 23.
- The EEOC said Ranrae, Inc., which owns and operates a Subway store in Bloomington, Indiana, refused to hire the qualified applicant for an open sandwich artist position because of "a communication concern" due to the applicant’s "hearing" and "speaking."
- The agency's lawsuit requested back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and a permanent injunction to prevent future discrimination in hiring, among other relief.
The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to qualified workers and applicants, unless doing so creates undue hardship for the employer. Undue hardship means that the accommodation "is costly, compromises workplace safety, decreases workplace efficiency, infringes on the rights of other employees, or requires other employees to do more than their share of potentially hazardous or burdensome work," according to EEOC.
Although "undue hardship" creates a high standard for employers to meet, some have successfully used that defense in accommodation claims. Walmart, for example, was able to demonstrate that "the loss of production that results from not replacing a worker who is unavailable due to a religious conflict can amount to undue hardship."
EEOC noted in an enforcement guidance on reasonable accommodation that providing qualified readers or interpreters is often reasonable. The agency described a hypothetical situation in which a job applicant requests a sign language interpreter for an interview. The fictitious employer cancels the interview and refuses to consider the applicant because it believes it would have to hire a full-time interpreter. The agency takes the position that the employer has violated the ADA and should have moved forward with the interview, using a sign language interpreter (unless that posed an undue hardship) and at the interview ask about the extent to which the applicant would need a sign language interpreter to communicate.
Additionally, there’s more than one way to accommodate an applicant or employee with a hearing disability, experts say. The Job Accommodation Network offers several suggestions for accommodating deaf applicants and employees such as with certain apps, the use of instant messaging and texting, white boards and more.