Home Depot Agrees to Enhance Sign Language Interpreters for California Workers
A settlement has been reached in a case brought by deaf and hard of hearing workers in California who claimed they were discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Final approval of the class action settlement was entered by United States District Court Judge Lucy Koh on February 2, 2012. The settlement will resolve Ortiz et al v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., which was filed in a San Jose federal court on June 9, 2009. The suit alleged that Home Depot violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) by failing to provide sign language interpreters at key workplace events such as interviews, trainings and meetings. The suit also alleged that Home Depot refused to allow deaf employees to operate forklifts.
As part of the settlement, Home Depot will provide sign language interpreters at key workplace events such as interviews, trainings, performance review meetings, disciplinary meetings, safety meetings and mandatory store-wide meetings. Home Depot has also agreed to ensure that visual alarms for emergencies are in place at retail stores where class members are employed and to provide technology devices to improve communication with deaf and hard of hearing associates. Home Depot has further agreed to ensure that class members are eligible for forklift training and certification on an equal basis as their non-disabled counterparts, provided minimum safety requirements may be maintained.
“I just wanted to succeed at my job,” said plaintiff Gabriel Ortiz. “I am happy that other deaf workers will not have to sit through meetings without understanding what is being said.“ Ortiz praised Home Depot for committing to improve the work lives of people with disabilities.
Attorney Josh Konecky, counsel for the plaintiffs, endorsed the settlement as an excellent result achieved through litigation and negotiation. Konecky, a partner at the law firm of Schneider Wallace Cottrell Brayton Konecky LLP, added, “We commend Home Depot for working with the plaintiffs to create comprehensive procedures to ensure that deaf and hard of hearing employees get the interpreters and other important accommodations they may need in the workplace. This settlement is a model for what employers can do to ensure equal opportunities for their hearing disabled employees.”
“This settlement marks an important step forward for deaf employees who need communication services such as sign language interpreters to experience equal employment opportunity,” said Jinny Kim, Senior Staff Attorney with Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center and also counsel for the plaintiffs. “The ADA and FEHA were passed to promote the integration of people with disabilities in the workplace, including workers who are deaf,” said Kim. “This agreement advances this public policy.”