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January 4, 2003

Deaf applicants settle with Best Buy

From: The Arizona Daily Star, Az - 04 Jan 2003

By Alan D. Fischer

A Tucson federal court case settled Tuesday will make it easier for the nation's hearing- impaired to apply for employment at Best Buy Co. Inc.

The Minneapolis-based electronics retailer will improve its automated telephone hiring system to offer better access to deaf people - access that was denied to two Tucson men, said Rose Daly-Rooney, a staff attorney at the Arizona Center for Disability Law.

Best Buy admitted to no wrongdoing by settling the case, a spokeswoman said Friday.

Esteban Altamirano and Carlos Rodriguez, both of whom are deaf, tried to apply for jobs in April 2000 - when the company sought workers for a second Tucson store - but could not because the automated phone system would not accept calls using TTY text telephone and telecommunication relay services, Daly-Rooney said.

When the men visited Best Buy to apply, they were told the automated phone system was the only way available, and employees failed to offer other options, Daly-Rooney said.

The company offered deaf applicants only limited access to the telephone hiring system, not the 24-hour availability offered other applicants. But the two men were not told this, said Sandy Padegimas, a senior trial attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Phoenix district office.

"For the hearing impaired, who had to call between 8 and 5 during the day, the disparity in access was tremendous," she said. Applications were considered in the order in which they called, she said, so the earliest applicants had the best chance of getting hired.

"The EEOC determined there was reasonable cause to believe Best Buy violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by maintaining a system that prevented equal access to the hearing-impaired to their application process," she said. "This Tucson case changed a nationwide policy that will affect every hearing-impaired person who might seek employment at Best Buy."

Best Buy admits no wrongdoing and did not violate the law, said Mollie Juelich, public relations manager for the company.

The company agreed to the "amicable" settlement to avoid additional expenses, she said.

Best Buy was in the process of upgrading its application system before the settlement was reached, Juelich said. Best Buy is a retailer of consumer electronics, personal computers, entertainment software and appliances that employs 90,000 and has 546 U.S. stores, including two in Tucson.

"I'm happy other people who are deaf can apply now," Altamirano said in a phone conversation Friday using TTY relay services. He said he is happy with his current job at Tucson Residence Foundation, a nonprofit agency providing residential support to adults and children with developmental disabilities, and is no longer interested in working at Best Buy.

In settling the lawsuit, Best Buy agreed to make its automated hiring system compatible with TTY systems by May, ensure that applications from TTY callers are not segregated from other applications, and provide a temporary phone line with a live operator 24 hours a day until the automated system is fully accessible to TTY callers, Daly-Rooney said.

Best Buy also agreed to pay Altamirano and Rodriguez each $2,200 and cover attorneys' fees for the nonprofit Arizona Center for Disability Law, which handled the case at no cost for the two plaintiffs, she said.

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