School May Be Liable for Not Accommodating Deaf

     (CN) – A beauty school must face discrimination claims for not providing a prospective student with a sign-language interpreter, a federal judge ruled.
     Beauty Basics owns and operates Aveda Institute of Washington, D.C., a cosmetology school. The private institution receives federal financial assistance in the form of direct federal grants to students and federally guaranteed student loans.
     Seeking to enroll in the school’s 13-month cosmetology program, Debra Wolff began the admissions process with a mandatory school tour in late 2011.
     But Wolff, who is deaf, says she had to bring a friend who spoke sign language since the school refused to provide an interpreter for the tour.
     When Wolff told the school that she wanted to enroll and requested an interpreter for classes, Aveda allegedly told her that the school was “unable to provide an interpreter due to the great expenses it would require of our Institute and company.”
     “We are only able to provide reasonable accommodations, but we hope that you will still be able to find accommodations to join our Cosmetology class in March,” according to an email from an Aveda director, as quoted by Wolff.
     U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle refused to dismiss the case last week.
     “Wolff has sufficiently alleged that the Aveda Institute conditioned Wolff’s ability to participate in the program on her ability to find her own ASL interpreter,” she wrote.
     Beauty Basics had claimed that Wolff failed to establish exclusion based on disability, and that she was not excluded since she did not formally apply.
     Huvelle found, however, that these claims would not doom Wolff’s case.
     “Notwithstanding that she does not have to plead every fact necessary … Wolff has pleaded the necessary facts here,” she wrote. “Her claim is ‘facially plausible’ in that, assuming the truth of all the facts alleged in the complaint, the complaint pleads factual content that permits a claim of disability discrimination. It is undisputed that she has alleged she is disabled, that defendant is subject to the ADA, Section 504, and the DCHRA, and that, when she requested an auxiliary service (interpretation) that she required, defendants declined to provide her with it.” (Parentheses in original.)
     Huvelle pointed out that the Aveda Institute Director’s email “demonstrates that the lack of available accommodations was the only barrier to her enrollment at the Aveda Institute,” showing that Wolff was “excluded from participation.”
     Beauty Basics “told Wolff that it did not intend to provide her with the accommodation she requested, and the ‘futile gesture’ principal makes clear that this is sufficient to state a claim if she was effectively excluded from participation.”

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