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Accommodation FOUR Times Salary NOT Seen as Undue Hardship

Lauren Searls is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She earned good performance reviews after completing two rounds of clinical rotations with the assistance of an American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpreter. Searls is deaf. Johns Hopkins Hospital (“JHH”) encouraged Searls to apply for a full-time position at the hospital.

Searls applied for, and was offered, a nursing position at JHH. Searls requested a full-time ASL interpreter as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. JHH analyzed the request, concluding that Searls would require a team of two ASL interpreters, which apparently would cost $240,000 a year in addition to Searls’ salary of approximately $60,000. JHH denied the accommodation and explained to Searls that the “cost” was operationally prohibitive to the department. JHH rescinded its job offer.

Searls sued JHH, claiming it violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by rescinding the job offer despite her being qualified for the job with a reasonable accommodation.

The Court found that interpreters “are a well-recognized accommodation” and would allow Searls to complete “a substantial portion” of her job duties, including communicating with patients and responding to alarms.

Further, the Court did not find “undue hardship,” a defense to Searls’ reasonable accommodation claim, because of JHH’s “decision to budget $0 for reasonable accommodations [and failure] to account for its $1.7 billion budget.” The Court was not convinced that interpreter services would cost $240,000.

Finally, the Court rejected JHH’s “direct threat” defense that Searls’ interpreter accommodation would create a “significant risk to the health or safety of others.” The Court found it to be “based on post-hoc rationalizations” because JHH did not bring it up when rescinding Searls’ job offer in the first place, nor did it provide specific evidence that Searls would endanger others.

Thus, JHH “failed to base its determination on an individualized assessment of Searls’ present ability to safely perform the essential functions of her job. . . Instead, JHH relied on stereotypes or generalizations about deafness.”

The Court allowed Searls’ claim to go to a jury to determine whether JHH discriminated against Searls based on her disability.