A San Diego-based technology firm for the hospitality industry has avoided a trial over charges it discriminated against a qualified deaf applicant from Massachusetts for a remote IT job.
U.S. District Judge Richard G. Stearns in Boston approved a 26-page consent decree resolving a disability discrimination lawsuit filed against remote-first technology company Digital Arbitrage, Inc., doing business as Cloudbeds, by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
EEOC sued on behalf of a deaf applicant who had the education and experience for the three remote IT Administrator jobs that the Cloudbeds finance department advertised on indeed.com. His candidacy was advanced after review of his application but then he was dropped from consideration not because of any accommodation that might be needed for the job but after he asked for an alternative way to accomplish a recorded interview that was the next stage in the hiring process.
The applicant, who resides in Northampton, Massachusetts, is deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate. Cloudbeds refused to use ASL or another alternative for the interview and did not inquire any further. The CEO said the company would not accommodate the interview because it would never hire a deaf person for the job anyway, according to the lawsuit.
The EEOC found the interview refusal was a violation of the reasonable accommodation requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Cloudbeds failed to engage in a good faith interactive process to identify reasonable accommodations in the hiring process and, in effect, it rejected him and terminated his candidacy because of his deafness, according to the EEOC complaint.
By turning away the deaf applicant without an interview, the company never learned how he had for years used various chat, email, video, screen share and other technologies to perform very similar remote IT work including resolving technical issues for end-users as the Cloudbeds jobs required. He had 17 years of experience in the IT professional support field including work as a remote IT director, a remote IT engineer and an IT systems administrator for various companies.
After turning him away, the firm hired three non-deaf candidates with less relevant job experience and less education for the IT jobs.
As part of the settlement Cloudbeds will pay $150,000 in damages. But it has also agreed to much more, including making substantial changes to its policies to encourage deaf candidates to apply for future jobs and be proactive in accommodating them where necessary.
The firm will update its reasonable accommodation policy and provide annual training for managers and human resources about discrimination law. The CEO of Cloudbeds, who insisted the company would not accommodate the candidate, will issue an annual video message on ensuring that people who are deaf and hard of hearing are provided reasonable accommodations.
The company’s human resource personnel will complete training on integrating deaf employees into the workplace, and an employee will complete courses on assistive technologies that are available to deaf or hard of hearing employees to communicate in the workplace.
The firm will also post any finance department IT openings to the website of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology along with a statement of commitment to hiring and accommodating people with hearing disabilities.
EEOC Regional Attorney Jeffrey Burstein said that “it is important that human resources and managerial professionals keep pace with changing technology as workplaces move to remote-first and hybrid settings.”
Timothy Riera, acting director of the EEOC’s New York District Office, said the consent decree is a reminder to employers of the importance of engaging in the interactive process with “qualified individuals who may provide insight into what reasonable accommodations they may need during the hiring process and may enable them to perform the essential functions of the positions to which they are applying.”
Cloudbeds sells a software suite, the Cloudbeds Hospitality Platform, to independent hotels, hostels, vacation rentals, and hotel groups nationwide and internationally via the internet.
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