Federal appeals court reinstates deaf worker’s bias suit


A federal appeals court on Tuesday overturned a lower court and reinstated a discrimination lawsuit filed by a deaf city worker who said she was provided with inadequate equipment to accommodate her disability.

Nicole Perkins, who communicates primarily using American Sign Language in her job as case manager at New York City’s Human Resources Administration, requires accommodations to meaningfully complete her professional responsibilities, according to the ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Nicole Perkins v. City of New York.

In August 2019, the month after she began working at her job, Ms. Perkins made a formal accommodation request to HRA for a monitor or computer with video camera to be used as video phone device for her phone calls, and access to video remote interpreting through her phone or a tablet for her field visits, the ruling said.

While the city provided certain equipment, Ms. Perkins had difficulty using it because of problems bypassing the city’s firewall, the ruling said. HRA was unresponsive to emails Ms. Perkins and the city’s vendor sent over the issue, it said.

Ms. Perkins filed suit in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn alleging violations under the federal Rehabilitation Act and New York State and NYC law.

The district court granted the city’s motion to dismiss the federal claims, and refused to exercise jurisdiction over the state and New York City claims, stating the complaint “does nothing more than describe an iterative process by which HRA made ongoing reasonable efforts to accommodate plaintiff.”

The ruling was overturned by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel. The ruling said it agreed with Ms. Perkins that the city refused “both actually and constructively to provide her with reasonable accommodations for her disability as required under the Rehabilitation Act.”

Plaintiff attorney Andrew Rozynski, a partner with Eisenberg & Baum LLP in New York, said in a statement, “We are pleased with the Circuit Judges’ well-reasoned decision.” The city’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that private plaintiffs cannot be reimbursed for emotional distress damages under the Rehabilitation Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in a case filed by a plaintiff who is deaf and legally blind and communicates primarily through American Sign Language.

 

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