A deaf man applied to a mining company for a job. It didn’t hire him, and the man filed a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Who won?
James Edstrom has a severe hearing impairment. Without a hearing aid, he can’t hear anything. He wears one in his left ear which allows him to hear sounds and some words. Edstrom doesn’t wear a hearing aid in his right ear because even with one, he can’t hear anything on that side.
He’d worked for nine years for LTV Steel Mining Co. During his first year at LTV, he was involved in a near-miss. Another employee operating a crane didn’t see Edstrom and almost collided with him. Edstrom was moved from working inside the mill to outside in the mining pit. He didn’t have any other incidents at LTV. He lost his job when the company closed.
LTV had accommodated Edstrom’s hearing limitation by allowing him to communicate through writing and hand signals.
Edstrom applied for five entry-level positions at Hibbing Taconite, another mining company. Three of the positions were in a plant and two were outdoors in a mining pit.
Hibbing scheduled an interview with Edstrom. His wife called the company to request a sign-language interpreter at the interview.
When Hibbing realized Edstrom was hearing impaired, it cancelled the interview.
Edstrom filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Soon after the charge was filed, Edstrom had an interview with Hibbing.
At the interview, Edstrom said it would be unsafe for him to work in the plants. Hibbing didn’t ask how it could accommodate Edstrom’s hearing impairment other than inquiring how LTV had handled it.
The company’s interview team decided he couldn’t be hired.
The EEOC filed a lawsuit on Edstrom’s behalf.
Could he do the job safely with accommodations?
The question in Edstrom’s case came down to whether a reasonable accommodation would allow him to communicate at the job and not affect safety.
Hibbing asked the court to throw out the case.
The court refused to throw out the case, saying there was a genuine issue as to whether Edstrom could be reasonably accommodated for the mine pit positions at Hibbing since he had performed similar jobs at LTV. It also said it was better to leave the question to a jury.
At trial, Hibbing claimed that Edstrom admitted if he’d been hired he would have posed a threat to the safety of other workers.
A requirement that a person “not pose a direct threat to the health of safety of other individuals in the work place” is an acceptable legal defense to a charge of disability discrimination.
The jury deliberated less than two hours before finding that Hibbing didn’t discriminate against Edstrom.
Do you have hearing-impaired workers in safety-sensitive jobs? How do you accommodate them? Let us know in the Comments Box below.