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Placer County ARC on receiving end of disability lawsuit

Roseville office, not Auburn, cited as cause for legal action
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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The employees of Placer County’s ARC may work everyday to give men and women born with disabilities a better quality of life, but their organization is now facing a legal action from a former staff member who claims she was compelled to quit her job over the ARC deciding not to accommodate her own disabilities.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which identifies itself as a nonprofit, announced this week it was filing a lawsuit against Placer County ARC on behalf of Homeyra Kazerounian, who worked as an instructional aide at for ARC starting in 2005.

According to the EEOC, Kazerounian is partially deaf and has significant English-language challenges, not only from her hearing impairment but also from being born in Iran. The lawsuit alleges Kazerounian had three straight years of good performance reviews when she worked at the Auburn office of Placer County ARC. However, according to EEOC lawyer Marcia Mitchell, all of that progress changed when she was transferred to the ARC’s Roseville office. Mitchell claims the Roseville ARC supervisors violated federal law by failing to provide “reasonable accommodations to a deaf employee.” Specifically, the EEOC claims the ARC was obligated to provide Kazerounian with a certified American Sign Language interpreter for mandatory staff meetings and employee training sessions. According to Kazerounian, the Auburn office of ARC did provide an ASL specialist to help her in such instances, though the Roseville office did not.

“Her supervisors provided her no interpretation for any of the daily mandatory staff meetings and forced her to communicate almost exclusively in English, even though they knew the Iranian-born employee with a hearing impairment was far more fluent in ASL than English,” EEOC District Supervisor Michael Baldonado wrote in a statement. “The organization failed to interact with Kazerounian to find a reasonable accommodation, and instead treated her so poorly that she felt she had no other option but to resign.”

The EEOC’s release also contained a direct quote from Kazerounian about the experience.

“It was isolating and frustrating not being able to understand and participate in staff meetings the way my hearing co-workers could,” she said "Before my transfer, Placer ARC provided ASL interpreting every week. But in Roseville, they stopped providing regular interpretation except for occasional all-staff meetings and when they discussed my job duties with me. I was expected to cope by reading notes and minutes from the daily required meetings, but I just could not join in and benefit from these meetings as I had with ASL interpretation."

The Americans with Disabilities Act, better known as ADA, bars disability discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. EEOC lawyers plan to argue their case against Placer ARC in the U.S. District Court in Sacramento. EEOC is seeking “monetary damages” on behalf of Kazerounian, as well as requiring training for ARC on anti-discrimination laws and other injunctive relief.

“Placer ARC's mission to help people with disabilities live independently contrasts starkly with its treatment of Ms. Kazerounian,” EEOC attorney William Tamayo added to the firm’s statement.

On Tuesday, the Placer County ARC released a brief statement about the newly announced lawsuit from its Roseville office on Vernon Street.

“Placer ARC is steadfastly dedicated to the support, education and well-being of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” the statement read. “We are committed to adhering to all laws and regulations in regard to our employment practices as well as services for the people we serve.”