ASL dispute results in legal settlement

To settle a federal lawsuit over American Sign Language (ASL) accommodations, the St. Paul City Council approved a $95,000 payout […]


To settle a federal lawsuit over American Sign Language (ASL) accommodations, the St. Paul City Council approved a $95,000 payout in February. The council also agreed to make additional changes to police department policy on communication with people who are deaf. 

Catrina Hooper, who is deaf, filed the lawsuit. In 2014 she scheduled a meeting with the St. Paul Police Department because she wanted to file a domestic assault report against her mother. She asked for a qualified ASL interpreter, according to her lawsuit. According to court documents, Hooper was told an officer who knew sign language would assist. That officer is not ASL-certified. 

Hooper’s lawsuit claimed violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and Minnesota Human Rights Act. The city denied Hooper’s allegations and liability, but opted to settle to avoid litigation and make changes to police policy. 

The Disability Law Center represented Hooper. This is the second similar lawsuit the center has been involved in. In 2008 deaf activist Doug Bahl filed suit against the police department. That resulted in policy changes and a $93,450 settlement in 2013. Bahl has since died. 

As part of the Bahl settlement, the police department agreed that when officers have a scheduled meeting with a person who is deaf, they would only use ASL interpreters. That didn’t happen for Hooper, although she asked the police department to use a certified interpreter. Hooper’s lawsuit stated that she was arrested twice when she went to the police department about the assault case. She was charged with felony domestic assault against her mother, and pleaded guilty in 2015 to misdemeanor domestic assault. 

Hooper also filed suit against Ramsey County and the sheriff’s office, saying she was not provided an ASL interpreter in the jail when she requested one. They reached a $40,000 settlement in 2017. 

The police department’s policy will be amended to specifically state that the department will use only certified sign language interpreters in scheduled interviews and meetings with people who are deaf or hard of hearing; it doesn’t apply for emergency situations that officers are responding to. Supervisors will be given training on the new policy, as will new employees. 

“The city is recommitting … to making sure they have a policy and it’s clarified about when the police will provide deaf and hard of hearing interpreters,” said Barnett Rosenfield, a supervising attorney with the Disability Law Center. “… There’s also some ongoing monitoring of compliance.” 

Source: Pioneer Press

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