In the case of Keith vs. County of Oakland, the Sixth Circuit’s opinion was to determine if the County of Oakland had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it rescinded its employment offer based on the plaintiff’s disability. The plaintiff, Nicholas Keith, was deaf; thus, the county officials considered his deafness a predicament in his effective communication with fellow lifeguards, patrons, emergency personnel and injured persons (Walsh, 2018). Keith had trained and completed the County’s lifeguard training program. He applied for the lifeguard post on two occasions in 2007 and 2008, where both failed. Keith filed a motion in Michigan district court alleging violations of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.
Legal Issue Presented
The County filed for a motion of summary judgment, arguing Keith was not otherwise qualified to be a lifeguard due to his ineffective communication skills, which the district court granted. The legal issue presented is whether the plaintiff was discriminated against based on his disability after applying for a position as a lifeguard that he otherwise qualified for. Oakland County failed to provide reasonable accommodation to Keith, who was deaf. Moreover, Keith established a valid claim of failure to reasonably accommodate by showcasing how the County did not make an individualized inquiry regarding his skills which would have proved his otherwise qualification and the County’s dismissal of his requested accommodations and failure to engage in the interactive process (Walsh, 2018). In the presence of genuine issues of fact whether Keith is otherwise qualified to be a lifeguard, with or without reasonable accommodation, the US Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case.
Keith’s accommodations included hiring an additional lifeguard to act as the plaintiff’s interpreter. The American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter would be present in the staff meeting and training programs to assist the plaintiff in basic comprehension skills. The modification of the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) accommodation required lifeguards to signal a fist in the air to initiate an emergency procedure. The most reasonable accommodation was the request of an interpreter. The federal agency, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is mandated to enforce civil rights against workplace discrimination by providing equal opportunities to all employees. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) incorporates that where an accommodation is required to enable the plaintiff to perform a task effectively, the burden of providing a reasonable accommodation lies with the plaintiff (Gould IV, 2019). Keith argues that the accommodation would enable him to communicate effectively with the little cost borne to the County, thus proportional to overhead cost. The County did not establish that providing a part-time interpreter would impose an undue hardship on the operation. There is also evidence that an interpreter’s provision during meetings and training programs is advantageous as it helped the plaintiff complete his lifeguard training course. The ADA encompasses a clause where reasonable accommodation includes qualified interpreters, particularly where they are only needed on specific occasions (Hersch and Bullock, 2018). Moreover, the limited settings are proportionate to costs as the County pays the interpreter only for hours worked.
The ADA requires an employer to engage with a prospective employee. The interactive process aims to identify the specific impediment resulting from the disability (McCrone, 2019). It also provides the basis for the enactment of potential reasonable accommodations that could conquer those inhibitions. Oakland County never engaged the plaintiff regarding his condition and ability to perform according to the job specification. Oakland County only engaged third-party associates, Ellis and Associates, regarding the ability of a deaf person working as a lifeguard. However, the third party had no experience or knowledge regarding the evolving situation, thus made a biased opinion. The clause is mandatory; therefore, Oakland County ought to have engaged Keith before revoking his application. Through the interactive process, Keith could have quelled their concerns regarding their prejudice of deaf individuals, limited use of an ASL interpreter and dispense expert knowledge regarding the ability of deaf individuals to work as lifeguards.
Gould IV, W. B. (2019). A primer on American labor law. Cambridge University Press.
Hersch, J., & Bullock, B. (2018). The law and economics of employment discrimination law.
McCrone, W. P. (2019). A summary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and its specific implications for hearing impaired people. JADARA, 23(3), 5.
Walsh, D. J. (2018). Employment law for human resource practice. Nelson Education.