ADA: Failure to Provide Interpreter May Be Discrimination, Regardless of Intent

June 1, 2011 | Healthcare Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance


The U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington denied a hospital's request for summary judgment in a case in which a deaf patient alleged unlawful discrimination because the hospital neglected to provide her with a requested American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter during her hospital visits.

The patient alleged discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination when the hospital failed to provide her with an ASL interpreter on three occasions. The hospital requested summary judgment because the patient's complaint was allegedly defective in that it contained references to incorrect dates of her appointments, and the hospital asserted that the lack of an interpreter was due to an "administrative error," not an effort to unlawfully discriminate against the patient because she is deaf. Considering the hospital's defense that its failure to provide an interpreter was unintentional, the court found that the hospital misinterpreted the legal element of causation in regard to discrimination laws—the test for discrimination is whether discrimination was the effect of something the defendant has done, not the defendant's intent. Therefore, the court noted, whether the inability to provide an...

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