Deaf Man Fights DND Over Lost Job

By JEROME LESSARD – The Intelligencer
Updated December 30, 2011

Jeffrey Stringer has won the first round of a five-year discrimination battle with the Department of National Defence.

But the hearing-impaired former drafting technician at 8 Wing/CFB Trenton said he is not done fighting.

Recently, the Department of National Defence (DND) was ordered to pay the 41-year-old civilian more than $27,000 for failing to provide him with a sign language interpreter.

When hired as a draftsman — he prepared accurate and detailed drawings for construction and engineering projects at the air base — under an employment equity program in 2003, National Defence (DND) was aware of Stringer’s disability. However, Stringer’s request for an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter — his first language — was denied on several occasions.

“Back then I requested interpretation for my performance appraisals so I could better understand my appraisal as well as at monthly safety meetings and an all-employee meeting to make sure I understood what was said,” said Stringer through wife Mary, who translated an interview with her husband and The Intelligencer from their Belleville home, Thursday.

“When I asked for an ASL interpreter to help understand the instructions for my BlackBerry, my manager told me to ‘read the damn manual,” added Stringer, who now works for Canada Post part-time in Kingston after he was let go by DND in 2006, “four days before he was to become indeterminate permanent status,” said Mary.

Stringer said he felt he wasn’t able to fully understand things at those times, though he fully met the requirements of his job. DND suggested English was a requirement for the job and that the Newfoundland native should take English language training. Stringer was also told by superiors the department would accommodate him, but the accommodations “should not be nit-picky” or “be a crutch.”

“Jeffrey’s first language is ASL, but he learned English in school as his second language,” said Mary. “While he is functional in writing English, he has difficulty understanding some English expressions that do not exist in ASL.”

As a result, Stringer filed a grievance, saying DND’s failure to accommodate his disability discriminated against him and left him feeling humiliated and “personally diminished,” he said.

Earlier this month, an adjudicator under the Public Service Labour Relations Act found there was no proof the failure to accommodate caused Stringer to use family counseling services and dismissed that claim. However, the adjudicator found that DND failed to meet its obligation of accommodation by not granting his request for an interpreter.

“The adjudicator said that not providing an interpreter put Jeffrey at a disadvantage compared to other employees at the base, since he was prevented from fully understanding or participating in work-related activities,” said Mary.

The adjudicator also criticized DND for not consulting any experts or training management to help with accommodation, even though Stringer was hired through an employment equity program.

“He (Stringer) fully satisfied the requirements of his job, but the employer decided to ask more from him, so that he would be less of a burden to accommodate,” stated the adjudicator.

Though Stringer was awarded a compensation, he and his wife Mary hope a pending application for judicial review before the Federal Court will go through in the near future — allowing the former draftsman to establish that being let go from his work “was also an act of discrimination,” he said.

“The adjudicator did recognize that there was a discrimination in the accommodation during the time Jeffrey was working at the base, but he judged that being let go was not discrimination,” said Mary. “Jeffrey’s union has been supporting him in this. Through the judicial review we are hoping Jeffrey could get his job back and retroactive wages.”

Article ID# 3420154

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