Deafness and Employment Discrimination

Unfortunately, when deaf and hard of hearing people look for work, they may encounter employment discrimination. Prospective employers can discriminate, either openly or subtly. This discrimination happens because of either overt prejudice, or because of ignorance about deafness and hearing loss. For example, an employer may erroneously think that a deaf employee will need an interpreter all of the time.

Businesswoman waiting with legs crossed in lobby
Caiaimage / Agnieszka Wozniak / Getty Images

What Can Deaf Job Applicants Do?

Some deaf job searchers may try to tailor their resumes to hide the fact they have a hearing loss. Deaf people can use personal relay service phone numbers on their resumes. This number is a real voice number and employers who see it on a resume do not know that the applicant is deaf/HOH until they call. This avoids "giving away" the fact the applicant is deaf on the resume because the deaf applicant can list the personal relay phone number instead. More importantly, deaf applicants can have immediate communication with the employer calling.

If you do suspect you are being discriminated against, document everything. Good documentation is often the key to winning the battle. For example, if you make a relay call to the company you want to work for, and the person on the phone says something like "we don't hire deaf people," make sure you document it.

What to Do About Discrimination

First, be aware that if you experience discrimination when you apply for a job, it could be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, a job applicant is considered qualified as long as he can do the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. An example of a reasonable accommodation might be an interpreter for important staff meetings.

Then, be aware that there is a U.S. government agency, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that is responsible for protecting your rights in the job search, and also on the job. Although you may be tempted to file a lawsuit right away, under the EEOC rules you have to file a charge of discrimination before you can file a lawsuit. You can file online or through the mail. You have 180 days to file from the day the discrimination happened, including holidays and weekends.

How to File With the EEOC

It is not hard to file an employment discrimination complaint with the EEOC. You can file or initiate filing in three different ways - in person, by phone, or by mail. To file in person, go to an EEOC field office. EEOC recommends contacting the field office in advance of filing because each office has its own procedures. To initiate the filing by phone, you can call the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000 with the basic information and they will contact a field office on your behalf, but you still have to work with the field office to actually file the charge. To file by mail, you can mail the EEOC a signed letter that has all the details. EEOC may contact you for more information, or the EEOC may put all the information you sent on an official charge form that you will be asked to sign.

What the EEOC Can Do

After they receive your charge of discrimination, the EEOC may ask you to go through mediation, whereas a neutral mediator may try to resolve the situation. If the attempt at mediation fails, or if the EEOC does not ask you to try mediation first, your charge of discrimination will go to an investigator who will investigate to see if there was in fact, discrimination.

Results of Complaint Investigation

If the EEOC investigator decides that there was discrimination, EEOC will try to settle with the employer. If a settlement is not achieved, EEOC then decides whether or not to file a lawsuit against the employer. Conversely, if the EEOC investigator decides that there was no discrimination, you still have the right to sue the employer. You will be given a Notice of Right to Sue.

Remedies for Employment Discrimination

In trying to reach a settlement or when filing a lawsuit, the EEOC may ask that you be placed in the job, or given the pay, you would have gotten if the company had hired you in the first place. There may also be compensatory (to reimburse your costs) or punitive damages (for an employer that has openly discriminated, for example).

EEOC Cases Involving Deaf Job Applicants

Have there been any past EEOC cases involving deaf job applicants? Yes. A search of the EEOC newsroom on deaf turns up the following examples:

  • EEOC settled a case with a hotel chain over a deaf teenager who was told at a job interview that she was not qualified for the position she applied for, because of her hearing loss.
  • EEOC won a lawsuit against a staffing company that would not consider a deaf job applicant for a position as a stock clerk. The staffing company would not accept the job application or interview the deaf applicant.
3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The ADA: Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability.

  2. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Filing a Lawsuit.

  3. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination.

Additional Reading
  • Remedies. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • Timeliness. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • Facts About the Americans with Disabilities Act. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • Filing a Charge. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.