On May 14, 2003, deaf and hard-of-hearing employees of the United States Postal Service, on their own behalf and on behalf of a class of people similarly situated, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Postmaster General of the United States Postal Service in his official capacity, under The Rehabilitation Act 29 U.S.C. § 791 et. seq. after beginning an action with the EEOC that stalled for about seven months. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel and the Washington Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, sought declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and attorneys fees.
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants failed to provide reasonable accommodations as required by the Rehabilitation Act and thereby caused the plaintiffs and their putative class to suffer harm of frustration, anxiety, fear and distress conditions particularly exacerbated by the anthrax threat in 2001. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the defendant discriminated against the plaintiffs and their putative class by failing to provide licensed sign language interpreters to its deaf and hard-of-hearing employees during important staff meetings that discussed safety, work place practices, and Postal Service policies.
On May 26, 2004, the District Court (Judge Richard J. Leon) issued an opinion ruling in favor of the defendant's motion to strike the class action portions of the plaintiffs' complaint because the plaintiffs failed to show that their claims were common and typical of their class as required by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a).
During the next six years the parties engaged in various discovery disputes and plaintiffs entered several amended complaints. In 2010, the parties engaged in settlement negotiations and mediation that result in part of a preliminary settlement on December 10, 2010.
On October 24, 2011, the plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion for class certification and court approval of attached Global Settlement Agreement among the parties.
On October 19, 2012, in an order, the District Court (Judge Leon) certified the class for purposes of settlement and granted leave for the plaintiffs to amend their complaint among other things.
In compliance with Judge Leon's order, the plaintiffs filed their third amended class action compliant alleging the defendant failed to provide reasonable accommodations and that failure "impeded [plaintiffs'] ability to perform an essential job function." The plaintiff also added plaintiffs from a parallel action against the defendant then being litigated in front of the EEOC whose added allegations where incorporated into the class definition quoted above.
On July 31, 2013, the District Court (Judge Leon) approved the Global Settlement Agreement that awarded the plaintiffs $4.33 million including $1,550,000 in plaintiff's attorneys fees and expenses, and $3,525,783 in compensatory damages. The Court also approved injunction that, among other things required: the defendant provide alternative means of communication to their deaf and hard of hearing employees for "important workplace communications" upon request; the defendant to create the Postal Service Reasonable Accommodation Assistance Center to monitor provision of reasonable accommodations in the postal service; and both parties to appoint a independent ombudsmen for three years to enforce the agreement. The District Court will retain jurisdiction over disputes arising our of this case, but this approved agreement closed the case.Brian Kempfer - 11/30/2013