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“Deaf Culture” Expert to Testify at Trial? Judge Allows EEOC to Test the Limits

In the last couple of years, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has prosecuted at least 12 lawsuits on behalf of deaf or hard-of-hearing employees or job applicants. And, within the last 10 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has litigated and/or settled close to 40 cases involving the failure to adequately accommodate deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals under Titles II or III of the ADA. A jury trial in one such case brought by the EEOC started this week in Sacramento, California. The case includes a claim that, while the employer previously provided an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for the employee at certain times during the workday, a new manager provided only “fingerspelling” (i.e., the actual spelling of words, letter by letter) instead of ASL for communication.

Does partial deafness constitute a disability under the ADAAA? The question remains unanswered.

A federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment for a newspaper/employer who had been sued after the lay-off of a female page designer who claimed that she was let go because of her gender and her deafness in one ear. Mengel v. Reading Eagle Company, EDPA, No. 11-6151 (March 28, 2013).
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