A Michigan county may have discriminated against a deaf man it refused to hire amid accommodation concerns, the 6th Circuit ruled. Nicholas Keith, who has been deaf since his birth in 1980, applied for a lifeguard position with Oakland County after getting certified in 2007.
Though Oakland initially offered Keith a part-time lifeguard position at its wave pool, Keith failed his pre-employment physical based on his deafness. Dr. Paul Work told Keith's mother, "I have to [fail Keith]. I have a house and three sons to think about. If something happens, they're not going to sue you, they're not going to sue the county, they're going to come after me."
To help Keith get the job, the county recreation specialist drew up a seven-point accommodation plan for Ellis & Associates, risk-management consultants that guide the Oakland lifeguard-training program. The proposed accommodations did not persuade the consultant that it would be safe to hire Keith, however, and the county revoked the employment offer. Keith sued for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, but a federal judge in Detroit granted the county summary judgment.
A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit reversed last week. "Ellis's representatives never spoke with Dr. Work, they never met Keith, and they never allowed Keith an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities," Judge Richard Griffin wrote for the panel. "Although knowledgeable in aquatic safety, they have no education, training, or experience regarding the ability of deaf individuals to work as lifeguards. Indeed, the representatives testified that they could not provide an opinion regarding Keith's ability to perform the essential functions of the position without seeing him in the actual work environment with the proposed accommodations in place."