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Rehabilitation Act Violated

In Kathy Krewsky v. Department of the Navy, EEOC No. 0120102511 (January 12, 2012), the EEOC found that the agency improperly denied Krewsky a reasonable accommodation when it failed to provide her with an interpreter. Krewsky was a recreation assistant at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut. In February 2009, Krewsky received an email that she was required to attend mandatory CPR training. She notified her supervisor two months prior to the training that she needed an interpreter due to her hearing impairment. The agency asserted that Krewsky had successfully completed CPR training the previous year without an interpreter and maintained that she had agreed to attend the training again without an interpreter. In its final agency decision, the agency concluded that Krewsky had failed to show that she was denied a reasonable accommodation because the absence of an interpreter did not prevent her from successfully completing the CPR training.

On appeal, the EEOC held that for a severely hearing-impaired employee who can sign, a reasonable accommodation at a minimum requires providing an interpreter for safety talks, discussions on work procedures, policies or assignments, and for every disciplinary action so that the employee can understand what is occurring at any and every crucial time in her employment career, whether or not she asks for an interpreter. The EEOC concluded that the agency was on notice that Krewsky needed to take the mandatory CPR training class and that it needed to obtain an interpreter in advance. The commission stated that it was not persuaded by the agency’s argument that an interpreter could not be arranged because the CPR training class was scheduled at the last minute nor by the agency’s argument that there were no funds available for interpreter services.

The EEOC found no evidence in the record to support a finding that the provision of interpreter services would have been unduly costly or that it would have fundamentally altered the nature of the agency’s operation. The EEOC found that the agency was obligated to provide Krewsky with an interpreter for the mandatory annual CPR training as required by the Rehabilitation Act.

In addition, the EEOC found that Krewsky may be entitled to compensatory damages for the agency’s failure to accommodate her. The EEOC ordered the agency to provide Krewsky with an interpreter for all future mandatory training, to conduct a supplemental investigation to determine whether she is entitled to compensatory damages as a result of the agency’s discriminatory action, to provide training to the supervisors regarding their obligations in providing reasonable accommodation under the Rehabilitation Act, and to consider taking disciplinary action against the supervisors for their failure to provide her with interpreter services.