ADA Does Not Require An Employer To Provide An Interpreter To An Applicant Who Is Not Otherwise Qualified for The Position

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Vermont’s federal appeals court, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, recently ruled that an applicant must
first be qualified for a prospective job position before the employer is required to provide reasonable
accommodations in the hiring process.

In Williams v. MTA Bus Co., a self-employed locksmith with 20 years of experience found that a city bus
company did not have any locksmith positions available, so he applied for a posted position of assistant
stock worker. The employer had written detailed job qualification requirements including:

  1. Three years of full-time experience as a stock assistant, stock clerk, or stock worker in an industrial, manufacturing, or wholesaling business which stocks railroad, automotive, machine, aircraft or marine maintenance tools, production parts, or plumbing, hardware or sheet metal supplies and tools; or
    2. Two years of full-time experience as described in #1 above and a four-year high school diploma or its educational equivalent; or

    3. A satisfactory equivalent of education and experience.

The Court found that “the applicant had no experience as a stock assistant, stock clerk, or stock worker in
an industrial, manufacturing, or wholesaling business, and he did not satisfy the requisite skill, experience,
education and other job-related requirements of the position.”

The job application process included an examination. Williams had an auditory disability, and requested an
ASL interpreter. The employer did not provide such interpreters for applicants. However, the employer
did provide Williams a written version of the instructions about how to take the exam, in place of the typical
verbal explanation. He failed the exam, and claimed he would have passed if he had been provided an

The Court ruled that the ADA only protects individuals who are qualified and can perform the essential
functions of the job. Congress sought to determine the employers’ obligations towards only those
individuals who are qualified to perform the job in question. Since Williams had no experience as a stock
worker, he was not qualified for the position in the first place. Consequently, the employer was not required
to provide the requested accommodation, an interpreter for the exam.

The key lesson from this case, employers should prepare very detailed job descriptions that clearly state
qualifications for a position. By setting out the particular qualifications for the job, an employer can prevent
a successful discriminatory challenge to the hiring process by someone who is indisputably not qualified
for the job.