July 13, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Disability nonprofit discriminated against deaf employee, suit alleges

Detroit— A Detroit nonprofit dedicated to helping those with disabilities is being sued for allegedly discriminating against a deaf employee.

A federal suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims Disability Network Wayne County violated the law when the company refused “to provide a reasonable accommodation to Steven Jeffries, who is deaf, and by firing him on the basis of his disability.”

An attorney for the nonprofit says Jeffries was simply a “poor performer” at work.

Jeffries, 45, declined to comment.

He began working for the Disability Network in September 2005 as an independent living specialist, helping disabled clients, said his attorney, Nedra Campbell with the EEOC. Campbell said the nonprofit violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Disability Network “failed to provide (Jeffries) with a reasonable accommodation and discharged him because of his disability,” the lawsuit says.

According to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court and being heard before Judge Linda V. Parker, Jeffries requested TTY (text telephone) equipment, a video phone and text messaging. He was fired April 10, 2012, court documents say.

Greg Liepshutz, an attorney for the Disability Network, said most of the company’s employees have some kind of disability and officials were not discriminating against Jeffries when they fired him.

“He was counseled consistently on his poor performance,” Liepshutz said.

Combined with a lost grant that forced the company to make cuts, Liepshutz said Jeffries never properly followed the process for putting his requests for special equipment in writing.

“He was terminated because he couldn’t do his job, refused to do his job,” Liepshutz said. “When the facts come out, we’ll be able to prove he was fired for legitimate reasons.”

Campbell said the EEOC conducted an investigation before filing the suit and determined Jeffries was not the slacker depicted by Liepshutz. “If the commission felt that was the case, we wouldn’t have filed the complaint,” she said.

The suit asks for the nonprofit to be forced to pay Jeffries back pay as well as past and future monetary losses from “emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience and humiliation.” A monetary amount is not listed.

A scheduling conference is set for 10 a.m. Friday before Parker.

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