DALLAS (Legal Newsline) – A case regarding the use of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for deaf job applicants found the employer, not the staffing firm, responsible for following the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In the case, a cellphone repair company, S&B Industry (doing business as Fox Conn), was found to be responsible for following the ADA, as it was the prospective employer and not the staffing firm used to find applicants.

While a final ruling hasn't been made whether S&B violated the ADA, the company could be found negligent for allegedly denying employment to two hearing-impaired job applicants because they weren’t provided proper accommodations for their disabilities.

The two job applicants, Katelynn Baker and Tia Rice, both sought employment at S&B Industry through a temporary staffing company in June 2013. The communication between the two and the staffing firm was written.

The two potential employees were interviewed and provided badges for employment with the company.

Upon requesting written information about the positions, a supervisor allegedly complied and then denied them this information, which the two plaintiffs allege was a result of their hearing impairments and a violation of reasonable accommodation for their disability.

Both Baker's and Rice’s badges were allegedly confiscated, and they were not hired by S&B Industry.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued S&B Industry in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, only after attempts were made to come to a settlement through it pre-litigation process. The EEOC sought injunctive relief as well as a policy by the company to prevent discrimination based on disabilities. It also sought lost wages and punitive damages on behalf of Baker and Rice.

During the case, S&B Industry claimed that it had no responsibility to provide an ASL interpreter as the plaintiffs were employees of a temporary staffing firm and it was not in violation of the ADA as it was not the prospective employer for the women.

The court denied a motion for summary judgment in the case and ruled that a jury would find that S&B Industry was the real prospective employer for the plaintiffs and responsible for complying with the ADA.

“The court ruled the way it did because there was evidence in the record to show that, notwithstanding the agreement between the defendant and the staffing agency or even documents signed by the employees about who their true employer was, the defendant was deemed to have exercised enough control over the workers’ day-to-day activities to satisfy a reasonable juror’s conclusion that the defendant was an 'employer' for purposes of the ADA,” Kevin J. O’Connor, of Peckar & Abramson, told Legal Newsline.

With no formal ruling in the case, O’Connor thinks this is a good outcome for potential employers.

“In some senses, the opinion is good for employers because the court refused to rule, as requested by the EEOC, that a company hiring independent contractors can per se be subject to ADA liability,” O’Connor said.

“Otherwise, the opinion is in keeping with the trend in the case law to make it difficult for companies to extract themselves from these cases on summary judgment where the defendant is exercising control over the staffing workers.”

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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
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