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Disability agency settles EEOC lawsuit over deaf worker's accommodations


A Detroit disability agency has agreed to pay $38,500 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit charging it with discrimination charges for allegedly failing to accommodate a deaf employee.

An attorney for the agency, Metropolitan Detroit Center for Independent Living, which conducts business as Disability Network/Wayne County, said the agency agreed to settle the case to avoid legal expenses.

The EEOC said last week that the agency denied a deaf employee who worked as an independent living specialist for the nonprofit, reasonable accommodations such as TTY, or text telephone, equipment, a video phone and the ability to use text messaging.

The complaint also charged that Disability Network rejected the employee's requests, failed to provide him with alternate accommodations and finally fired him because he is deaf. The agency was charged with violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In addition to the settlement, the five year consent decree settling the case provides for training on the ADA and enjoins Disability Network from terminating an employee on the basis of disability or failing to provide reasonable accommodations in the future.

“The hypocrisy of this nonprofit — whose very mission is to help disabled individuals — disadvantaging and then firing someone because of a disability — is mind-boggling,” EEOC trial attorney Nedra Campbell said in a statement. “Disability Network, of all people, should understand the importance of working toward reasonable accommodations for a deaf employee. It only goes to show that the EEOC has its work cut out for it — and we will certainly continue our fight for the rights of the disabled.”

The agency's attorney, Greg M. Liepshutz, a partner with Levine Benjamin P.C. in Southfield, Michigan, said, “We thought we could have defended the case and gotten a dismissal,” but the legal fees would have exceeded the amount of the settlement. “When you're a nonprofit, you don't have a lot of money to waste,” he said

In 2012, the EEOC reached a $125,000 settlement with a nonprofit human resources organization it had sued for disability discrimination in connection with the termination of an obese employee.

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