In 2001, UPS hired Mauricio Centeno as a junior accounts payable clerk at its facility in Glendale, CA. Centeno is deaf and has been since birth. His primary language is American Sign Language and he reads and writes at a fourth or fifth grade level. UPS provided him with an interpreter at monthly meetings and with written notes at weekly meetings.
Centeno complained that getting the notes after the meeting deprived him of the opportunity to ask questions. He asked for an interpreter for the weekly meetings or contemporaneous notes. UPS began providing Centeno with contemporaneous notes in 2004, but Centeno complained that the notes weren’t sufficiently detailed and repeated his request for an interpreter. In addition, an EEOC investigator (stepping way outside the role of neutral fact-finder) told Centeno not to attend meetings where there wasn’t an interpreter. When Centeno stopped attending these mandatory meetings, UPS excused him from doing so.
To many of us, this sounds like an employer going above and beyond to assist a profoundly disabled employee. And the judge who granted UPS’s motion for summary judgment agreed. But on Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision (pdf) holding that there was a triable issue as to whether UPS satisfied its obligations under the ADA to provide reasonable accommodation.
The case illustrates the extent of the demands imposed on employers by the ADA. The obligation to provide reasonable accommodation is a continuing one. It requires employers to accept that accommodating disabled employees can be burdensome, costly, and inefficient. And the larger the employer, the more they’re expected to do to enable eligible employees to receive the benefits and privileges of employment.
UPDATE (January 23, 2012): On December 20, 2011, UPS settled the case for $95,000. The company also agreed to appoint an ADA coordinator, to provide sensitivity training, and to engage in an ongoing, more thorough dialogue with employees seeking accommodation.