Discrimination Against the Deaf

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Are Deaf Persons Protected Against Discrimination?

Almost every state (and the federal government) has laws which prohibit employment discrimination based on disability, as long as the disability does not impair the employee’s ability to do the job.

Deafness is a “disability” under the meaning of these discrimination laws. As long as a deaf person can perform the functions of the job for which they were hired, the employer cannot take his or her disability into account when making employment decisions, such as hiring, firing, promotion, or discipline.

In order to qualify for protection though, the deaf person must apply for or hold an existing position and meet the minimum qualifications for the job.

Similarly, it is illegal to deny deaf persons housing (rent or purchase) on the basis of their disability. As long as the deaf person can pay rent, follow the terms of the lease, and in general be a good tenant, it is illegal to deny housing or engage in any acts which would dissuade a disable person from purchasing or renting housing.

What If the Deaf Person Needs Assistance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability. For a deaf person, this might include hiring a speech-to-text service for phone calls, keeping written records of meetings, and hiring a sign language translator, if doing so would not place too large of a burden on the company. The accommodation is reasonable if the costs do not outweigh the benefits to the company.

The same law applies when disabled persons wish to rent or purchase housing. The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discrimination against disabled persons on the basis of their disability or to deny reasonable accommodations so that they may live in the property they rent or wish to buy.  

The exception to the reasonable accommodation rule is if such accommodations would create an undue hardship on the employer, landlord or seller. The accommodations are considered an undue hardship in relation to the employer, landlord or seller’s financial situation. In some states, the accommodation can be an undue hardship in relation to the benefits to the accommodated worker.

What Types of Discrimination Claims Can Be Brought?

The law protects persons who suffered discrimination, or whose employers or landlords did not provide reasonable accommodations. The deaf person can bring up to two types of disability discrimination cases: disparate treatment (intentional discrimination), or disparate impact (unintentional discrimination).

Discrimination can be unintentional when there is a neutral rule which produces a negative impact against targeted groups. For example, a rule that certain subjects not be written down would greatly impact a deaf person because the deaf person would have a difficult time finding about the subjects if it were not written down.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

An experienced employment lawyer will be able to help you understand the law and help you determine where the boundaries of employment discrimination law are.
A real property lawyer also can advise you about state and local housing discrimination laws, which can be equally complex.

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Last Modified: 04-17-2013 02:50 PM PDT

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