Accommodation of Deaf IBM Worker OK’d


MANHATTAN (CN) – Though “it is not altogether clear to me why” – according to a dissenting judge – a divided 2nd Circuit panel ruled on Thursday that a deaf worker at IBM will have to resign himself to shifting between watching a company video and an American Sign Language interpreter’s hands.
     Software engineer Alfred Noll sued his employers at IBM three years ago for refusing to caption all video files and provide transcripts for all audio files stored on the company intranet.
     U.S. District Judge Harold Baer tossed the case a year later because IBM provided Noll with a sign language interpreter.
     Noll protested that, for obvious reasons, this created a frustrating solution.
     The 2nd Circuit found 2-1 on Thursday that this qualified as a “reasonable accommodation.”
     “We do not doubt that the need to split visual focus was a disadvantage that likely tired or annoyed Noll,” Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote for the majority. “We hold nevertheless that, in this case, the disadvantage did not render IBM’s accommodations ineffective”
     Judge Christopher Droney agreed with the opinion but Judge Robert Sack appeared puzzled by his colleagues’ finding that IBM’s solution was “effective.”
     “It seems to me that, to the contrary, Noll has offered evidence ‘from which a reasonable inference could be drawn’ that it would have been ineffective,” Sack’s dissent states.
     Sack faulted his colleagues for not tailoring their findings specifically to Noll’s situation.
     “The majority opinion seems to conclude, although it is not altogether clear to me why, that the ASL interpreters whose services were provided to Noll were plainly reasonable accommodations in the circumstances of this case,” he wrote. “We have said, however, that the ‘necessarily fact-specific’ question whether an employer’s proffered modification is effective ‘must be made on a case-by-casecase basis.'”
     Commenting that his client is “quite upset” about the ruling, Noll’s lawyer Eugene Feldman said in a phone interview: “We’re disappointed in the result.”
     He added that he and his client are “weighing our options” regarding an appeal.
     IBM did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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