The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged UPS SCS, a business unit of the United Parcel Service, with unlawfully denying a reasonable accommodation to a deaf employee.
According to the EEOC’s suit, from 2001 to 2009, Mauricio Centeno worked at the UPS SCS facility in Gardena, California, as a junior clerk in the accounting department. Deaf since birth, Centeno’s primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), and he struggles to understand written English. Although aware of his impairment, UPS SCS supervisors continuously denied Centeno his requested reasonable accommodation of a sign language interpreter for training, departmental staff meetings and other work-related sessions. Instead, supervisors required that he attend the meetings and counseled him about his performance without such an interpreter.
According to the EEOC, UPS SCS sometimes provided written notes and summaries, but this did not adequately accommodate him due to his lack of proficiency in written English.
The EEOC filed suit in September 2006, arguing that UPS SCS failed to reasonably accommodate Centeno, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment due to one’s disability and requires that employers provide an employee or job applicant with a reasonable accommodation that is actually effective, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. In this case, UPS SCS did not cite cost as a factor in the decision to deny consistent use of a sign language interpreter.
In November 2008, the EEOC appealed a decision by the U.S. District Court, Central District of California, to grant UPS SPS motion for summary judgment to dismiss the EEOC’s suit. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not only reversed the lower court’s ruling, but also held that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities even if the accommodations are for benefits and privileges (such as staff meetings) that are not essential functions of the job.
Aside from the monetary relief, the three-year consent decree settling the suit requires UPS SCS to adhere to the following provisions for its operations in California:
• Designate an ADA Coordinator to review and revise policies with respect to reasonable accommodations;
• Ensure that deaf or hard-of-hearing employees understand their right to receive effective accommodations and do receive them;
• Engage in the interactive process with employees who request accommodations, including face-to-face meetings to discuss potential accommodations;
• Provide prompt and thorough investigation of complaints of disability discrimination and/or retaliation;
• Conduct live sensitivity training on how to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals for all supervisors and managers, with enhanced training for those in the human resources and occupational health departments;
• Create and maintain an accommodation log to track the handling of accommodation requests; and
• Post a notice of the consent decree at each facility.
The case is EEOC v. UPS Supply Chain Solutions, No. CV 06-06210 ABC (Ex).