Seven deaf people who work for the state and an advocacy organization sued Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California in San Francisco Superior Court today, alleging that the state doesn’t provide the communication aids they need to do their jobs.
The lawsuit by the seven employees and Deaf and Hard of Hearing State Workers United seeks to be certified as a class action on behalf of an estimated 1,500 deaf or hearing-disabled state workers.
The suit alleges that state agencies are failing to provide reasonable accommodations, such as sign language interpreters and videophones, to enable deaf workers to communicate effectively at meetings and events.
Kevin Knestrick, an attorney with Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, said, “California is supposed to be a model employer, but deaf employees are not getting the accommodations they need.”
The lawsuit seeks improvements in state policy and procedures but does not ask for any money.
The suit alleges violations of California fair employment law, the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.
One of the plaintiffs is Catherine Garbacz, a vocational counselor in the state Department of Rehabilitation’s San Francisco district office, which serves San Francisco and Marin counties.
Garbacz said in a statement that her requests for sign language interpreters have been ignored or denied and she is sometimes forced to try to rely on lip-reading or passing notes to communicate.
Garbacz said, “The state needs to do a better job of providing us with a workplace where we can serve our consumers and do our jobs.”
Spokespersons for the governor and the state attorney general’s office had no immediate comment.