HHS Office for Civil Rights and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan Resolve Federal Civil Rights Complaint Regarding a Doctor’s Alleged Failure to Provide a Sign Language Interpreter
Action resolves allegations by a patient who is deaf, alleging that a physician in Dearborn, Michigan failed to provide effective communication when requested
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan (DOJ), entered into an agreement with Dearborn Obstetrics and Gynecology, P.C. (Dearborn OBGYN), to resolve an alleged federal civil rights violation. OCR received a complaint alleging that Dearborn OBGYN refused repeated requests to provide the complainant with a sign language interpreter for a preoperative appointment. The complainant further alleged that Dearborn OBGYN retaliated against her for requesting an interpreter by cancelling her preoperative appointment and surgery and by terminating her as a patient. Failure to provide effective communication for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Section 1557).
“Federal civil rights laws are clear that health care providers must provide those who are deaf or hard of hearing with appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such as an ASL interpreter, when requested,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer. “Providers are required to follow the law and provide care in a manner that is free from discrimination. In this matter, the provider terminated her as a patient because she requested an accommodation —this is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Ensuring that people with disabilities can access their care equally is critical and today we call on providers around the country to follow the law.”
The Agreement resolves a complaint filed with OCR on behalf of an individual who is deaf and utilizes American Sign Language (“ASL”), alleging that Dearborn OBGYN failed to furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services necessary to effectively communicate with the individual. The individual repeatedly requested a qualified ASL interpreter prior to a scheduled pre-surgical appointment, but Dearborn OBGYN allegedly refused to take appropriate steps to ensure that its communications with the individual were effective. The complainant provided documentation showing that after she requested an ASL interpreter, Dearborn OBGYN terminated her as a patient.
OCR investigated the allegations in partnership with DOJ, and reviewed Dearborn OBGYN policies and procedures for effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. As a result of the joint investigation, Dearborn OBGYN voluntarily entered an agreement and affirmed its assurance of compliance with Section 504 and Section 1557. Under this Agreement, Dearborn OBGYN agreed to:
- Develop effective policies and practices to ensure the availability of auxiliary aids and services;
- Develop policies and procedures to ensure non-discrimination and non-retaliation;
- Train its staff on the new policies to ensure employees understand the practices and procedures to ensure effective communication with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, and non-discrimination and non-retaliation obligations;
- Eighteen months of monitoring by OCR and DOJ, during which it will report any complaints from individuals who have disabilities to OCR and DOJ; and
- Additionally, Dearborn OBGYN has agreed to pay the impacted party compensatory relief under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Voluntary Resolution Agreement may be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-providers/compliance-enforcement/agreements/vra-dearborn-obstetrics-and-gynecology-pc/index.html