Deaf woman and state Better Business Bureau reach settlement in disability discrimination suit

June 18, 1996|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

A deaf woman and the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland Inc. have settled a disability discrimination lawsuit she filed against a former company president, ending a trial that began last week in federal court.

As part of the settlement, lawyers for both sides refused yesterday to give details. Joann Bryant had asked for $100,000 in damages and a court order to restore her to a job in keeping with her experience. But Beth Pepper, her attorney, said yesterday she has not been given a job.

Bryant, 61, was laid off in January, Pepper said.

The case attracted the attention of national and local advocacy groups.

"Maybe the fact that the case was settled sends a good sign," said Marc Charmatz, director of the National Association of the Deaf Law Center in Silver Spring. "The fact that a complaint was raised, answered and taken care of about the inequities a deaf person faced is an important step."

Bryant, who began her job at the organization in 1992 as a bookkeeper, alleged in her lawsuit that former president Philip Kershner and other employees, including her supervisor, vice president of operations Richard "Ben" Hogan, taunted her about her disability. Bryant does not know sign language and reads lips to catch the gist of a conversation. Hogan denied the allegation.

She also said Kershner repeatedly kissed and fondled her despite her objections -- allegations he denied.

The bureau's procedure for dealing with sexual harassment complaints is to report incidents to the president or vice president of the group. Bryant said she did, but to no avail.

In May 1994, Bryant asked Hogan for a $300 telecommunications device for the deaf known as a TTY to help her do her job as membership coordinator, which required getting callers' phone numbers and addresses. A TTY machine consists of a small screen and a keyboard hooked up to a telephone to allow a deaf person to talk with a caller.

But Hogan and Kershner denied her request for the TTY machine and shortly thereafter moved Bryant to a file clerk position requiring little or no phone use. Their reasoning, according to court documents, was the TTY machine would "provide an undue hardship" on the bureau's operations.

But TTY users and organizations for the deaf disagree.

"It doesn't cost much; it doesn't change how a person does their job nor does it take any more time," Charmatz said.

After being denied a machine, Bryant filed her first of three complaints to the Maryland Human Relations Commission against Kershner and the group, claiming she was demoted to file clerk because of her disability. In April 1995, she filed a lawsuit against the bureau and Kershner alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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