After more than five years of litigation, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has settled a disability discrimination case against a unit of United Parcel Service for $95,000.
The case on behalf of Mauricio Centeno, who has been deaf since birth, yielded an important appellate win for the EEOC when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in 2010 suggested that employers must reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities even if it’s for benefits and privileges (such as staff meetings) that are not essential to the job.
Centeno, whose first and primary language is American Sign Language, worked as a junior clerk in the accounting department at a UPS facility in California from 2001 until 2009.
Both sides agreed he could complete the normal duties of his job without a sign language interpreter. The dispute centered on whether UPS was obliged to provide an interpreter for training, staff meetings, and other work-related sessions.
UPS in-house lawyers determined the company did not have to provide an interpreter for regular meetings lasting less than two hours, according to court documents, though Centeno asked for an interpreter repeatedly. Instead, he was sometimes given written notes or summaries, which he struggled to understand. UPS did not cite cost as a factor in the decision to deny consistent use of a sign language interpreter.
The EEOC sued UPS in the Central District of California in 2006 for failing to reasonably accommodate Centeno’s deafness. The district court granted UPS’s motion for summary judgment in 2008, ruling that the company met its duty to accommodate him under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The 9th Circuit reversed the lower court, finding that “an employer cannot satisfy its obligations under the ADA by providing an ineffective modification.”
In addition to the $95,000 payment, the settlement also includes a three-year consent decree.
“For years, Maurice Centeno sat in silence during meetings while his supervisors ignored his requests for a sign language interpreter,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, in a news release. “We commend [UPS] for recognizing that workers with disabilities have the right to the same benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by those without disabilities, and for working to provide effective accommodations in the future.”