Supreme Court: Deaf Texans Claim Agencies Can’t Deny Interpreters for Driver’s Ed.

Five individuals who are Deaf from four Texas cities allege they were denied sign language interpreters for driver’s education courses required by the Texas Education Agency and later by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Person driving a car from a side angle
The Supreme Court prepares to hear a Texas case alleging that the Texas Education Agency is responsible for providing interpreters for driver’s education courses required by the state. photo credit: Late night drive (CA to TX road trip) via photopin (license)

The case has been in court twice.

Once, a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of the individuals who were Deaf.

The case was appealed in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the case was dismissed, “saying that driver education is not a service, program, or activity of the TEA,” according to the report.

The U.S. Supreme Court will now determine what is a service, program, or activity” as far as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title II doesn’t allow individuals with disabilities to be excluded from “services, programs, or activities of a public entity.” Public entities serve the public and includes government agencies, according to the report.

According to the report, “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act includes similar language, prohibiting discrimination of the disabled in any ‘program or activity’ receiving federal funding.

Said the second court that dropped the case: “We hold that the mere fact that the driver education schools are heavily regulated and supervised by the TEA does not make these schools a ‘service, program, or activity’ of the TEA,’ the court’s opinion said,” according to the report.

Cars stopped at an intersection.
Are Texas drivers who are Deaf given the same opportunity to get the education required to drive as others? It all depends on how the court determine a few words from the ADA. photo credit: Cars via photopin (license)

According to a report from The Texas Tribune, “This has the potential to be a landmark decision for deaf rights and indeed for all disability rights,” said Wayne Krause Yang, legal director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which represents the five plaintiffs who are Deaf.

A settlement case between the U.S. government and the Orange County Clerk of Courts in Florida had a similar situation. A man who was blind was denied screen reader- accessible documents he requested from court.

This was found to violate Title II of the ADA and though the Clerk of Courts didn’t agree that the discriminated, they agreed to a settlement with the U.S. government to avoid similar situations.

According to the settlement, even if the public entity contracted the services, they are responsible for not excluding people from activities because of their disability: “a public entity may not, directly or through contractual or other arrangements, utilize methods of administration that deny individuals with disabilities access to the public entity’s services, programs, and activities or that perpetuate the discrimination of another public entity, if both public entities are subject to common administrative control or are agencies of the same state.  28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(3).”

The original Texas case regarding denial of interpreters for driver’s education, Ivy v. Morath, took place in 2011 and continued a process through other courts.

This week, the Supreme Court decided to hear it.

EEOC sues McDonald’s for Discrimination against Applicant who is Deaf

While many people were Christmas shopping, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, filed a lawsuit for disability discrimination against McDonald’s.

According to a Disability.gov update, the EEOC has charged McDonald’s Corporation and McDonald’s Restaurants of Missouri with disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“An applicant who is deaf applied for a job at a McDonald’s in Belton, Missouri. When the restaurant learned that the applicant needed a sign language interpreter as a reasonable accommodation for his job interview, they allegedly canceled the interview and wouldn’t reschedule it,” according to the Disability.gov update.

Man speaks and sign language interpreter signs with hands what he's saying.
Sign language interpreters aren’t a want for employees who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing and request them, they are a need. While employees may not need interpreters for most tasks, if they request an interpreter, the request should be taken seriously.

How might McDonald’s management have broken the law?

According to the ADA, “Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits private employers, State and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees, including State and local governments.”

According to the EEOC’s press release, they filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s for violating federal “by refusing to accommodate and hire a deaf applicant…”

“When the Belton restaurant manager learned [the applicant] needed a sign language interpreter for his job interview, she canceled the interview and never rescheduled it, despite the [applicant’s] sister volunteering to act as the interpreter. Restaurant management continued to interview and hire new workers after [the applicant] made several attempts to schedule an interview,” according to the press release.

According to the press release, “EEOC seeks back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief, including training for all McDonald’s managers on accommodations for applicants with disabilities, particularly those who are deaf.”

Disability symbol
“People with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea G. Baran said.

“People with disabilities have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea G. Baran said in the press release. “Providing equal employment opportunities to all job applicants – including those with disabilities – is not just the law, it is good for our economy and our workplaces.”

According to a Disability.gov bulletin, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a service for people who use American Sign Language (ASL). The Direct Video Access program helps people who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing get information in ASL about employment discrimination issues, including filing discrimination complaints. Call 844-234-5122 from 7 a.m.- 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, to be connected to an EEOC representative who is fluent in ASL.