North Memorial Health has agreed to pay $180,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a woman who said she was refused a job as a greeter at its hospital in Robbinsdale because she is deaf.
Kaylah Vogt, of Maple Grove, and the health care system reached their settlement Thursday in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis under what is called a consent decree, meaning North Memorial makes no admission of wrongdoing but agrees to make the payout and take other actions spelled out in the suit that address rights protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
"Unfortunately, some employers continue to discriminate against deaf applicants based on myths, fears and stereotypes about their ability to do the job because of their disability," said Gregory Gochanour, regional attorney in Chicago for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued on Vogt's behalf.
Julianne Bowman, district director for the EEOC in Chicago, said, "The consent decree's requirement of training for managers and supervisors involved in hiring decisions on the provisions against discrimination is critical to eliminating discrimination against disabled applicants."
Vogt, 26, is a student at the University of Minnesota's College of Continuing and Professional Studies, and she was featured in a college article in August 2021, where she recalled her experience with North Memorial and her belief that she had been hired.
"After I self-identified as an individual with deafness and requested a reasonable accommodation, I was fired instantly without their further attempt to work with me. ... Ultimately, it affected my career choices and how I navigate the world."
Since then, she founded Healing Signs, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide mental health services for the deaf and hard of hearing.
According to Vogt's suit:
In July 2020, Vogt applied through a recruiting firm to be a greeter, but North Memorial decided otherwise despite her being qualified to do the job and carry out its essential functions. Those included greeting visitors, applying COVID-19 masking standards and policies, giving directions and keeping the area tidy and welcoming.
The suit also pointed out that Vogt wears hearing aids that allow her to "hear people speaking without any difficulty. Vogt can communicate verbally [and] can also communicate with American Sign Language."
In a court filing denying the allegations, North Memorial highlighted the challenges greeters were having at the time because of the pandemic and the need for "strong listening and verbal communication skills while interacting with individuals experiencing stress/grief."
The filing also contended that greeters "needed to communicate quickly and succinctly with visitors regarding visitor policy, assess visitors' understanding and compliance, and troubleshoot [while] communication was significantly hindered by COVID-necessitated face masks."
One day after the settlement was reached, North Memorial said in a statement: "We recognize that our [hiring] processes in place for temporary roles may have been compromised during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we understand Ms. Vogt's disappointment in the decisions that were made at that time. ... We have reviewed specific practices following this case and will continue to strive to ensure our customers, our current, past and future team members, and our providers feel valued and respected."
Among the requirements of the consent decree, which lasts for two years, North Memorial must:
- Apply its disability anti-discrimination and reasonable accommodation policies to all applicants and employees hired to work at North Memorial Health, whether they are hired by North Memorial directly or through a staffing firm.
- Provide reasonable accommodation unless doing so would result in an undue hardship on the health system or a direct threat.
- Submit to the EEOC any reports of complaints of failure to hire or failure to accommodate based on disability.
- Provide training to employees involved in the hiring process.
The $180,000 payment covers $75,000 in compensatory damages, about $44,000 in back pay and roughly $61,000 to pay her attorney's fees.