Retailer Refused to Provide Accommodation or Hire Deaf Applicant, Federal Agency Says
BALTIMORE - Toys "R" Us, Inc., one of the world's largest retailers of toys and juvenile products, violated federal law when it first refused to provide an interpreter for a deaf applicant and then failed to hire her, the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it announced today.
The EEOC charged that Shakirra Thomas, who is deaf, applied for a team member position at the retailer's Columbia, Md., store in October 2011. Thomas communicates by using American Sign Language, reading lips and through written word. When the company contacted Thomas to attend a group interview, Thomas' mother advised that Thomas was deaf and requested the company to provide an interpreter for the interview. The retailer refused and said that if Thomas wished to attend a group interview in November 2011, then she would have to provide her own interpreter, the EEOC alleges.
Thomas's mother interpreted for her during a group interview, but the company refused to hire Thomas despite her qualifications for and ability to perform the team member position, with or without a reasonable accommodation, the EEOC said in its lawsuit.
Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants with disabilities unless it would cause an undue hardship. The ADA also prohibits employers from refusing to hire someone because of a disability. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-00756-CCB, after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
"Federal law requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation during the interview process, including providing an American Sign Language interpreter, unless the employer can show it would be a significant difficulty or expense to do so, said EEOC District Director Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., of the EEOC's Philadelphia District Office. "Given the size and resources of Toys "R" Us, it is difficult to understand how it would have been an undue hardship for such a large retailer to provide an interpreter when asked to so."
EEOC Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence added, "It's not only bad business to forgo hiring a qualified employee simply because of fears, biases or stereotypes against people with disabilities, it's also a violation of the law."
According to its website, http://www.toysrusinc.com, Toys "R" Us, Inc. employs approximately 70,000 employees worldwide.
The Philadelphia District Office of the EEOC oversees Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and parts of New Jersey and Ohio.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the Commission is available at its website, www.eeoc.gov .