Feds sue Placer County disability group over deaf worker's treatment

03/26/2013 12:00 AM

03/26/2013 6:34 AM

A nonprofit Placer County organization dedicated to providing independent living services to people with developmental disabilities violated the law when it failed to provide reasonable accommodations to one of its own employees who is deaf, regulators charged Monday in Sacramento federal court.

A lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accuses Placer ARC of refusing to provide a certified American Sign Language interpreter for a deaf instructional aide.

Homeyra Kazerounian had previously established a three-year record of good service at the organization's Auburn facility, where she was supported with interpretation when she was in training and mandatory staff meetings, the suit says.

But, when she was transferred to a Placer ARC Roseville facility in 2008, her supervisors refused interpretation for the daily, mandatory staff meetings and forced her to communicate almost exclusively in English, even though they knew the hearing-impaired, Iranian-born Kazerounian was far more fluent in American Sign Language, the suit alleges.

It asserts that the organization failed to interact with her to find a reasonable accommodation and, instead, treated her so poorly that she felt she had no choice but to resign.

"It was isolating and frustrating not being able to understand and participate in staff meetings the way my hearing co-workers could," an EEOC press release quotes Kazerounian as saying.

"I don't know anything about the lawsuit," Placer ARC Executive Director Barbara Guenther wrote Monday in an email.

"Placer ARC is steadfastly dedicated to the support, education, and well-being of individuals with intellectual and development disabilities," Guenther wrote. "We are committed to adhering to all laws and regulations in regard to our employment practices as well as services for the people we serve."

The EEOC press release quotes regional attorney William Tamayo as saying, "Placer ARC's mission to help people with disabilities live independently contrasts starkly with its treatment of Ms. Kazerounian. ARC's mandatory morning meetings were an opportunity to learn, develop and share skills. By denying Ms. Kazerounian competent ASL interpretation, her employer was denying her an important resource for her job."

According to the release, EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado added, "Under the (Americans with Disabilities Act), reasonable accommodation need not be the first preference of the individual with a disability, but it does need to be effective."

The EEOC, which enforces the nation's laws prohibiting employment discrimination, filed suit only after attempting to reach a voluntary settlement through conciliation, the release says.

The agency seeks an unspecified amount of monetary damages on behalf of Kazerounian, training of Placer ARC employees on anti-discrimination laws, posting of worksite notices regarding obligations imposed by those laws, and other court-ordered relief.

Placer ARC is one of more than 700 chapters of The Arc, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that, according to its website, "promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes."

According to its website, Placer ARC, whose slogan is "Making the Difference for Individuals with Special Needs," operates five programs that serve Placer County and surrounding areas, with facilities in Auburn, Roseville and Meadow Vista.

Call The Bee's Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.


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