Wal-Mart settles claims with two deaf applicants

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Arizona Center for Disability Law have announced a settlement of a disability discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart related to hiring discrimination claims brought by two deaf applicants.

Under the terms of a consent decree approved by Judge William Browning, Wal-Mart agrees to pay $132,500 to Jeremy Fass and William Darnell, two applicants who are deaf. Fass and Darnell, who applied for positions at a Tucson Wal-Mart store, also will be offered jobs under the terms of the consent decree. Wal-Mart also agrees to make corporatewide changes in the hiring and training of new employees who are deaf or hearing impaired.

Wal-Mart agrees to several provisions

The lawsuit was brought in 1997 under the Americans with Disabilities Act by the EEOC and the Arizona Center for Disability Law. These are some of the major provisions of the consent decree that apply directly to Fass and Darnell:

• Each will be paid $ 66,250 plus his share of profit sharing and reimbursement for out-of-pocket medical expenses that would have been covered by health insurance benefits had he been hired by Wal-Mart in 1995.

• Wal-Mart will offer both men jobs as a stocker or unloader.

• Wal-Mart will provide a sign language interpreter for them during their training and orientation, at any meetings to discuss evaluations of their performance, and at scheduled meetings.

• Wal-Mart will also provide other reasonable accommodations based on their deafness:

— giving them vibrating pagers for communication at the store;

— installing a telecommunication device for the deaf (known as a TTY or TDD);

— revamping safety and evacuation procedures to ensure that deaf employees are safely evacuated during an emergency;

— installing visual fire alarms.

Wal-Mart will pay the Arizona Center for Disability Law $57,500 in attorney’s fees and litigation expenses incurred in representing Fass and Darnell.

A major portion of the training Wal-Mart offers to its new employees is an orientation and training program that is developed at the corporate office and administered nationwide through computer-based learning and videotapes. Under the terms of the consent decree, Wal-Mart will do the following:

• encode with closed or open captioning all training videotapes used by Wal-Mart to train employees in any entry-level position;

• develop an alternative format for a sign language version of the information in the computer-based learning modules;

• provide a corporatewide electronic or written notice to all of its stores to announce the availability of the alternative format videotapes and computer-based learning modules for use by the deaf and hearing impaired;

• modify its existing corporate policy on reasonable accommodations to include a procedure for an applicant or employee to follow if she or he wishes to request an accommodation and the procedure for approval of the accommodation request.

Selected Wal-Mart stores in Tucson, Phoenix, and Green Valley also will take some additional steps under this consent decree. Those stores will conduct meetings with representatives from agencies that assist with job placement of people who are deaf and hearing impaired to explain the hiring procedures and discuss job openings. They will make arrangements with sign language interpreter referral services to ensure sign language interpreters are available when needed, and they will conduct training on the nondiscrimination provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and communication techniques for employees who are deaf.