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No accommodation offer necessary at termination meeting

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The ADA requires accommodations for disabled employees under two circumstances: 1) to allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs; and 2) to enable them to “enjoy the equal benefits and privileges of employment” that nondisabled employees have.

Courts have consistently ruled that deaf employees are entitled to sign language interpreters during training sessions (training is considered a benefit of employment). They may also need specialized equipment or software to perform their jobs. But do you need to provide an interpreter or specialized equipment during a disciplinary meeting?

According to a recent 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the answer is “no” if it’s a meeting to actually terminate the employee.

Recent case: Donald Novella, who is a deaf, worked for Wal-Mart until he was fired for allegedly writing obscene graffiti on bathroom walls. Before learning he was fired, Novella was told to report for a meeting to discuss the graffiti. He asked for an interpreter. Wal-Mart denied his request, held the meeting and then fired him.

Novella sued, alleging that he had an ADA right to an interpreter at a disciplinary hearing so he could understand the charges and respond to them. Wal-Mart argued this wasn’t a disciplinary hearing—it was simply a meeting to tell Novella he had been fired.

The court dismissed the case, reasoning there was no accommodation required under either the “perform essential functions” or the “equal benefits and privileges” provisions. He was no worse off than nondisabled employees and no longer had essential functions to perform since he had no job. (Novella v. Wal-Mart, No. 06-12919, 11th Cir., 2007)   

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