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CCBC settles ADA suit with hearing-impaired woman

The Community College of Baltimore County has agreed to settle a lawsuit with a hearing-impaired woman who says the school refused to place her in a clinical internship after she asked for an interpreter.

The college and Alma Decola Martin said the details are being finalized and, although the college is a public institution, both sides maintained that the terms will not be disclosed.

“The college denies any liability, of course,” said the college’s attorney, Clifford Geiger, of Kollman & Saucier P.A. in Timonium. “We are pleased we are able to reach a resolution of the matter early on in the process.”

To complete her course of study, Martin was required to complete 400 hours of clinical work. Although the college had provided an interpreter for her classes, when she asked for one for the internship she was told her hearing impairment would make her a “liability.”

“The college provided reasonable accommodation to Ms. Martin all along the way and I believe they ran into a situation where there was a miscommunication,” Geiger said.

Martin’s attorney, Michael P. Coyle of The Law Offices of Chaifetz & Coyle in Columbia, declined to comment on the settlement.

Martin originally filed the lawsuit last fall in Baltimore County Circuit Court. The college removed the action to U.S. District Court in Baltimore on March 29.

The complaint also named Baltimore County as a defendant, but the county filed a successful motion to dismiss on the basis that the college is governed solely by a board of trustees, not the county. The college, with campuses in Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex and several extension centers, is considered a “body politic” and an instrumentality of the state, according to its annual financial reports.

According to the complaint, Martin has lost 70 percent of her hearing to sensorineural hearing loss.

She began taking courses in interpretive services at CCBC in spring 2009, and met with the college’s disabilities services office that winter to discuss accommodations for her hearing impairment. The college agreed to provide her with an interpreter, a note-taker and extended time for test-taking.

That winter, she also took an assessment to identify jobs she could perform with her level of hearing. As a result, she decided to pursue a career as a central services technician, which involves disinfecting surgical equipment. She switched to the Central Sterilization Program in September 2010, and was again provided an interpreter and note-taker for class work.

Later that fall, she met with Patricia Clarke, program coordinator for CCBC’s clinical program, about obtaining an interpreter for her clinical hours in a hospital. According to the lawsuit, Clarke told Martin she should not have been allowed to enter the program and would be a liability as a technician because of her hearing impediment.

Martin claims the college then refused to place her in an internship for her clinical work.

Martin claimed two counts of violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and two counts of violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

“Ms. Martin’s request for an interpreter is not to meet a personal need, and the accommodation would not involve an undue financial or administrative burden for CCBC,” Martin’s complaint states.

Martin sought a minimum of $300,000 in compensatory damages, $1 million in punitive damages, injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees.

The two sides met for a settlement conference Tuesday and Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander issued a settlement order the same day.

ALMA DECOLA MARTIN V. BALTIMORE COUNTY AND THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE OF BALTIMORE COUNTY

Court:

U.S. District Court, Baltimore

Case No.:

1:13-cv-00957-ELH

Judge:

Ellen Lipton Hollander

Outcome:

Settled before trial; terms not disclosed

Dates:

Incident: January 2011

Suit filed: Sept. 17, 2012

Settlement: Aug. 6, 2013

Plaintiffs’ Attorney:

Michael P. Coyle of The Law Offices of Chaifetz & Coyle in Columbia.

Defendant’s Attorney:

Clifford Geiger, of Kollman & Saucier P.A. in Timonium.

Count:

Two counts of violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and two counts of violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.