The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.


ADA: Reasonable Accommodation

August 2, 2007

Ms. Laura Rush
General Counsel
Office of the State Courts Administrator
Supreme Court Building
500 South Duval Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1900

Dear Ms. Rush:

This responds to your June 29, 2007 letter to Naomi Earp, Chair of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Your letter states that it “has long been the policy of the State Courts System that accommodations for attorneys who appear in the courtroom as part of their employment duties or professional practice are the responsibility of the employer or the professional under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” You state that the court system does facilitate the provision of certain types of accommodations by ensuring physical access to facilities, allowing attorneys advance access to courtrooms to familiarize themselves with their surroundings, making schedule changes to court proceedings, and allowing attorneys to have service animals in the courtroom. However, you ask us to confirm that the State Courts System “bears no financial responsibility for providing sign language interpreter services, real-time transcription services, or any other Title I accommodations for an attorney with a disability who is participating in a courtroom proceeding as an integral part of his/her employment relationship with another public or private entity or as part of his/her professional practice.”

The EEOC enforces Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12111, et seq., which prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by private and State and local government employers with fifteen or more employees.(1) As part of their non-discrimination obligations under Title I, covered employers must provide reasonable accommodations for the known physical and mental limitations of otherwise qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. See 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.9. Reasonable accommodations include qualified sign language interpreters, readers, assistive technology, and other changes to the workplace or in the way things are customarily done that enable individuals with disabilities to apply for jobs, perform essential job functions, and enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment. See 42 U.S.C. § 12111(9); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o). An employer covered by Title I of the ADA would be required to provide sign language interpreters, readers, and assistive technology that an attorney with a disability needs to perform the essential functions of his or her job both in and outside the courtroom, absent undue hardship.

Your letter appears to raise issues concerning the court system’s obligations under Title II of the ADA. An employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodations under Title I would not alter any obligation that a public entity may have under Title II. EEOC has recognized situations in which two entities may be responsible for providing an accommodation under different parts of the ADA. See, e.g., “Questions and Answers About Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” available at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/deafness.html , at Q&A 16, Ex. 24 (employer is required to provide sign language or real-time transcription services as a reasonable accommodation for a deaf employee who wants to attend an employer-sponsored training program, even though the company providing the training may also be responsible for providing the same accommodations under Title III of the ADA).

As you are probably aware,, the Department of Justice (DOJ), not the EEOC, enforces Title II of the ADA. Therefore, we cannot express a view on whether Title II would require the State courts to provide sign language interpreters and other types of reasonable accommodations to attorneys representing clients in judicial proceedings. However, in May of 2005, the EEOC, the DOJ, and the National Council on Disability jointly published “Questions and Answers for Mediation providers: Mediation and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” available at http://www.eeoc.gov/mediate/ada/ada_mediators.html. That document poses and answers a question similar to the one you have asked. The question and answer read in pertinent part as follows:

Additional questions that violate the Rehabilitation Act appear on page 53, where the application inquires about the number of drinks the applicant consumes daily and weekly and also asks about alcohol-related treatment or counseling. Under the Rehabilitation Act, questions concerning the quantity or frequency of drinking or participation in alcohol rehabilitation programs may be deemed disability-related. That is, they often are found to be questions designed to elicit disability-related information. As the Commission notes in its Guidance on Preemployment Questions:

13. Does a mediation provider have to provide reasonable accommodation for a non-party participant in the mediation (e.g., a party's representative)?

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities who seek to enjoy the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered by places of public accommodation. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability against participants in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance or that are conducted by the federal government. Title II of the ADA essentially applies the same standards as Section 504 to State and local government entities, regardless of whether they receive federal funds.

Consequently, the following entities must provide accommodations for non-party participants in a mediation:

The principles in this question and answer clearly apply to individuals who represent parties to mediation, and no distinction is made between individuals who provide representation as an integral part of their employment and those who do not. Nor do the question and answer distinguish between accommodations such as sign language interpreters, readers, real-time transcription, and assistive technology on the one hand, and policy modifications and physical access to facilities on the other.

I hope this information is helpful to you. This letter is an informal discussion of the issues you raised and does not constitute an official opinion of the EEOC.

Sincerely,

Christopher J. Kuczynski
Assistant Legal Counsel

cc: Naomi C. Earp, Chair, EEOC
Ronald S. Cooper, General Counsel, EEOC
John L. Wodatch, Chief, Disability Rights Section, DOJ

Footnotes

(1) We note at the outset that, to the extent your stated policy assumes that any auxiliary aids and services the courts might provide to attorneys with disabilities under Title II would be duplicative of those accommodations to which they are already entitled under Title I, this assumption is incorrect with respect to sole practitioners, attorneys who would qualify as independent contractors, and attorneys who work for employers with fewer than fifteen employees.


This page was last modified on November 26, 2007.

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