Cheesecake Factory forks over $15,000 for failing to accommodate deaf worker

Posted by Charles Middleton on 02/22/2018

Q: A federal agency recently announced The Cheesecake Factory will settle a lawsuit against it by paying $15,000 and implementing changes within its restaurants. What started all of this?

A: In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against The Cheesecake Factory for violations of federal law. According to the lawsuit, The Cheesecake Factory's downtown Seattle restaurant failed to provide effective accommodation for a newly hired dishwasher whom the company knew was deaf. The agency claimed the restaurant not only denied the worker's repeated requests that the orientation training video include either closed captioning or American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation, but also that it unilaterally chose to communicate with him via written notes throughout his employment. Further, it was alleged the disabled employee, who was later fired for attendance issues, was provided inadequate training — also without ASL or other accommodation — on the company's online scheduling and timekeeping system.

Q: What's required of employers under the ADA?

A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation to employees or job applicants with a disability, unless doing so would cause the employer “undue hardship” — namely, too much difficulty or expense. Reasonable accommodation means making changes to assist disabled individuals so that they are on a level playing field with a non-disabled individual in similar circumstances. Employers must engage in an interactive process with the goal of providing disabled employees with a reasonable accommodation that will allow them continue to perform their essential job functions.

Q: What were the terms of the settlement between the EEOC and the Cheesecake Factory?

A: Under the settlement, The Cheesecake Factory has agreed to provide closed captioning for the training and orientation videos that are required viewing for all new hires. Additionally, The Cheesecake Factory will pay the deaf employee $15,000 for back pay and compensatory damages.

Q: What lessons can other employers take from this case?

A: Employers should take note of this case and settlement and remember that they are required to consider reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Employers should communicate and interact with their employees who have disabilities in an effort to identify an accommodation that is reasonable and workable for both the employee and the employer.

PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER

Published The Oklahoman, February 22, 2018