- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit against Walmart April 28 under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging the company discriminated against a qualified applicant because he is deaf (EEOC v. Walmart Stores, Inc. and Walmart Stores East, LP, No. 21-cv-02080 (C.D. Ill., April 28, 2020)).
- The applicant applied online for a position at a Walmart Store in Decatur, Illinois, according to EEOC. He was contacted for an interview, at which point he told the contact he was deaf and requested an American Sign Language interpreter. The request ended the application process, EEOC said, even after the applicant followed up with the company.
- "The ADA clearly requires employers to provide disabled and able-bodied applicants alike the same opportunities to compete for a job, which includes providing reasonable accommodations such as sign language interpreters for deaf applicants at interviews," said Gregory Gochanour, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Chicago. "Otherwise an employer could exclude an applicant from consideration even where they are qualified for the job. That is exactly what happened here."
Title I of the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and qualified applicants with disabilities. In a fact sheet on disability discrimination, the EEOC includes "providing qualified readers or interpreters" among the reasonable accommodations an employer may be expected to provide under the law.
Employers can set themselves up to avoid an ADA claim by asking employees and qualified applicants who approach them with a request how they can be helpful, those with deep knowledge of the ADA say.
Walmart allegedly has run afoul of the ADA several times during the past few years. In October 2019, a jury found that the company discriminated against a longtime employee with developmental and visual disabilities after the worker was terminated following a change in management at the location in Beloit, Wisconsin. One month later, Walmart agreed to pay $80,000 and implement nationwide changes to its disability reassignment policy to settle a lawsuit brought by the EEOC on behalf of a sales associate at an Augusta, Maine, store who became disabled and was not transferred to a position she could fulfill at a nearby store, even though several were available.
The complaint also is not the first for the store alleging a failure to accommodate individuals with hearing impairments. In 2018, the EEOC alleged a Walmart store in Washington, D.C., did not provide communication accommodations, including sign language interpreters, to two deaf employees who requested them. In that case, the court granted Walmart’s motion to dismiss the complaint because, it said, EEOC did not provide "factual support for a claim that is plausible on its face."