SEATTLE, Wash. – On December 20, 2016, restaurant giant The Cheesecake Factory, Inc., was sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for allegedly failing to provide an effective accommodation for a newly hired deaf employee – instead it fired him over attendance issues. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, The Cheesecake Factory denied Oleg Ivanov’s repeated requests for orientation training with either closed captioned video or American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation. Although the restaurant was aware that Ivanov was deaf prior to his hire as a part-time dishwasher, the Company did not respond to his requests for accommodation and unilaterally decided to rely on passing back and forth written notes to communicate with him at his June 2014 interview, post-hire orientation and significant meetings. However, after Ivanov was terminated for attendance issues, the EEOC determined that he received inadequate training, including use of the company’s online scheduling system and timekeeping process, leaving him at a disadvantage in tracking his constantly changing work hours. At the time of his termination for attendance, he reminded them that he was deaf and had not been provided with an ASL interpreter for his orientation training.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense. The EEOC’s lawsuit (EEOC v. The Cheesecake Factory, Inc. and The Cheesecake Factory Restaurants, Inc., 2:16-CV-1942.) was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, and seeks monetary damages on behalf of Ivanov, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site, and other injunctive relief.
In other cases involving deaf employees, the EEOC has filed lawsuits to force certain accommodations, including:
- Walmart agreed to provide a sign language interpreter for them during their training and orientation. It also agreed to give them vibrating pagers for communication at the store and installed a telecommunication device for the deaf (known as a TTY or TDD). Walmart also installed a visual fire alarm.
- Bank of America settled a lawsuit and agreed to provide alternate communications, because the written note communication process was not effective. It also agreed to train its team on the ADA and accommodations.
- Creative Networks was sued by the EEOC because it refused to pay more than $200 for sign language interpreter services during the company’s mandatory 24-hour pre-employment orientation and training program.
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