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Jury awards $184,400 against staffing company in EEOC disability harassment case brought on behalf of deaf applicant

A Dallas jury rendered a verdict against staffing company Smith Personnel Solutions, awarding $184,400 to a deaf applicant who was turned away when she tried to apply for a job as a stock clerk, in an ADA case brought on behalf of the applicant by the EEOC. In a statement issued to announce the verdict, the EEOC notes that Smith Personnel Solutions operates four branch offices in Texas, and employs approximately 650 workers.

The jury awarded Jacquelyn Moncada $34,400 for lost wages and emotional harm and an additional $150,000 in punitive damages based on the EEOC’s charges that Smith refused to consider her for an open job of a stock clerk because of her deafness. Smith did not take Moncada’s application nor interview her for the job, instead telling her through her sign language interpreter that there was no open job for her.

The verdict, rendered on September 22, followed the presentation of evidence by the EEOC that Moncada and a sign language interpreter went to Smith seeking work as a stocker. The Smith employee told her that he had no job for her and that she could be “dangerous” because she “couldn’t communicate.” Moncada had worked for almost three years as a stock clerk in a previous job, and had never experienced problems communicating because of her disability.

According to the EEOC, it filed suit (dkt no 3:08-cv-1552D) in the Northern District of Texas after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.

“Jacquelyn wasn’t asking for special treatment, just the chance to apply for a job,” said EEOC trial attorney Joel Clark. “Smith Personnel’s assumption that she couldn’t work just because she is deaf is the type of mistaken assumption that can be prevented through training and education.”

Heather Bise, deafness resource specialist for the Deaf Action Center, who offered expert witness testimony for the EEOC at trial, said, “I believe this case will have a holistic affect on the deaf community, and the walls of audism — an attitudinal barrier towards people with hearing loss — will eventually fade. Deaf individuals are simply asking for a chance, and I don’t think we are asking for much.” The deafness resource specialist project is provided through the Deaf Action Center and funded by the Texas Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services.