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Ventura County Sued by Department of Justice Over Disability Discrimination

September 9, 2009

The federal government is suing Ventura County, California, for employment disability discrimination--after the county rejected a qualified job candidate because she was deaf.

The lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department in Los Angeles Federal Court last week claims that Ventura County violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The suit claims that after an initial investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the county acknowledged that the deaf woman was not hired because of her disability.

In 2005, Lee Ann Unchangco applied for a position to work for children's social services with Ventura County after working in a similar position in Los Angeles County successfully for over eight years. In her first interview, Unchangco was given high ratings after being asked questions that were job-related and standardized. Her second interview, conducted by different country interviewers, focused on her disability--mainly how often she needs to use an interpreter, and whether this interpreter would interfere with her ability to provide social services to children. Unchangco responded that with the help of hearing aids, a reasonable accommodation, she would be able to perform well in the job. She was not hired.

The Justice Department claims that Unchangco was not hired after the second interview because she was deaf. Unchangco contacted the EEOCand filed a discrimination complaint. The EEOC tried to resolve the charge, but was unsuccessful, referring the case to the Justice Department in 2006.

The Justice Department is seeking an unspecified monetary resolution for Unchangco, as well as the position she interviewed for in 2005, along with back pay with interest, pension and health benefits, and other measures. The suit also asks for the court to ensure that Ventura County is unable to discriminate against qualified deaf applicants in the future, and to make sure that the county provides reasonable accommodations, unless these accommodations would impose undue hardship.

According to Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the ADA was created to protect disabled individuals from this very kind of discrimination--to prevent employers from hiring on the basis of stereotypes and possible cost involved in providing accommodations for an employee with a disability.

Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits employers, in this case Ventura County, state and local governments, labor unions and employment agencies from discriminating against a qualified individual with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, compensation, advancement, job training, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. An employer is required to make reasonable accommodation for the qualified applicant's disability, as long as it does not impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business.

King stated in a Justice Department press release, "The Civil Rights Division is committed to protecting the promise of equal employment opportunities for all individuals with disabilities."

In 2008, the EEOC reports to have resolved 15,708 disability discrimination charges, recovering $57.2 million in monetary restitution.

Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against Ventura County, California to Enforce Employment Rights Under the ADA, Reuters/U.S. Department of Justice Press Release, September 3, 2009

U.S. Sues County Over Alleged Hiring Bias, Ventura County Star, September 3, 2009

Ventura County Sues For Failing to Hire Deaf Woman, Mercury News/AP, September 3, 2009

DOJ: County Ignoring Employment Rights for Disabled,, September 4, 2009

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If you or someone you know in Southern California has a disability and has been a victim of discrimination in the work place, they may be entitled to compensation. Our experienced Anaheim-based Labor and Employment Lawyers know how to defend your disability discrimination case. Contact Howard Law, PC today.