Walmart Sued for Failing to Accommodate Deaf Applicant

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer May 17, 2021
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Walmart store

​The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued Walmart, alleging the retailer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and discriminated against a job applicant because he is deaf.

Specifically, the company is charged with failing to provide an American Sign Language interpreter for the applicant, who asked for one during a job interview.

The applicant applied online for a position at a Walmart Store in Decatur, Ill. He was contacted for an interview, at which point he said he was deaf and requested an interpreter. The request ended the application process, according to the EEOC.

"The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to enable applicants and employees with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities, including to enable individuals to be considered for a job opening, unless doing so would create an undue hardship or a direct threat to the individual or others in the workplace," said Elizabeth Bolduc, an employment attorney in the Cleveland office of Walter Haverfield.

"A reasonable accommodation is simply a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or work policy," she said. "Once an applicant or employee requests an accommodation, the employer must, in good faith, engage in the interactive process, which involves communicating with the individual and/or the individual's health care provider, to identify what, if any, reasonable accommodation can be provided."

Gregory Gochanour, the EEOC's regional attorney in Chicago, said that the ADA "clearly requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations such as sign language interpreters for deaf applicants at interviews. Otherwise an employer could exclude an applicant from consideration even where they are qualified for the job."

Bolduc said that there are several possible reasonable accommodations that may assist an applicant with a hearing impairment or deafness, including assistive technology, video relay services, instant messaging systems, captioned audiovisual information, interpreter services and real-time captioning services.

"Accordingly, reasonable accommodations are not one-size-fits-all," she said. "Instead, employers should have an open dialogue with the individual requesting an accommodation to determine what accommodation may be best suited for that specific person." 

There is no exclusive list of potential reasonable accommodations, Bolduc said. "An employer should keep in mind that what may be an effective accommodation for one person may not be effective for another person. Thus, communication between the individual with a disability and the employer is key."

In 2019, a Walmart store in Washington, D.C., agreed to pay $100,000 to settle an EEOC lawsuit alleging that it refused to provide accommodations, such as access to sign language interpreters and closed-captioned training videos, to two deaf employees.

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