Bank employee with hearing loss prevails in ADA accommodation suit

By Fred Cohen

MONROE, LA–An employment discrimination case brought by Wanda Smith, a lien release processor with J.P. Morgan Chase, Smith claimed that even using prescriptive hearing aids she still does not hear at the level of a typical adult. She was fired by Chase for failing to meet a productivity benchmark of 13.34 lien releases processed per hour.

Chase defended arguing that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Smith was not qualified with or without “accommodation.”  The plaintiff countered with the allegation that while she received group training as to her job requirements, she asked for (and needed) individual training because then her lip reading skills supplemented what she could not hear. With the reasonable accommodation of individual training, plaintiff claimed that she could excel at the job.finds that Ms. Smith did, indeed, state a case of employee discrimination under ADA: See Smith v. J.P. Morgan Chase, 2011 WL 841439 (W.D. La.)

Once an employee requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must, among other things, engage in a good-faith interactive process. This was not done. Chase knew of the disability; Smith requested one-on-one training and access to written material on ever-changing lien release requirements. Smith then prevailed at this stage of the litigation, meaning she has shown that there is a genuine issue of material fact that should be decided by a trier of fact.

 

THE TAKE AWAY

Hearing-impaired employees, even those using hearing aids, may establish an ADA violation if they are denied individual training to do the particular job as an accommodation for their disability.

 

Fred Cohen, LLB, LLM, attorney-in-residence at HearingHealthMatters.org, has taught at a number of leading law schools and was a founder of the Graduate School of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York at Albany. He has written frequently about legal issues on this blog and in many other publications.