USDA Returns to Centralized Interpreting Services in Landmark Settlement, Improving Interpreter Access and Addressing Discriminatory Employment Disincentives


Washington, DC, August 30, 2022  Following the conclusion of claims administration, lawyers for a class of deaf and hard of hearing employees of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) working in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area announce a settlement in Campbell v. Vilsack (EEOC No. 570-2018-00277X).  Plaintiffs were represented by the National Association for the Deaf (NAD), Zelle LLP, and Latham & Watkins LLP.  The lawsuit alleged that the USDA provided inconsistent and unreliable sign language services to its DC-area deaf and hard of hearing employees when it stopped providing centralized services in 2014.  When the USDA decentralized its sign language interpreting system, each of USDA’s seventeen sub-agencies were required to fund sign language services for its employees directly (with costs covered by the particular sub-agency). As a result, the Class maintained that USDA had created a discriminatory disincentive for its managers to hire, retain, or promote deaf employees.

After eight years of litigation, all USDA deaf and hard of hearing employees in the Washington, D.C. region will now be able to access sign language interpreting services through a centralized system. Under the settlement, the USDA has agreed to re-centralize how sign language services are provided, and to fund sign language interpreting contracts through a centralized shared cost program.  This centralized funding system requires each sub-agency to contribute funding based on its total number of full-time employees, no matter how many deaf or hard of hearing employees work at each sub-agency or how often each sub-agency’s employees use sign language services.  Using this funding system makes sure that none of the USDA’s sub-agencies are motivated to avoid hiring, retaining, and promoting deaf and hard of hearing employees.  Under the settlement, DC-area deaf and hard of hearing USDA employees are also able to have input in how the USDA contracts with sign language interpreting vendors as well as to provide performance evaluations of these vendors.

Additionally, the Settlement included requiring the USDA to pay $550,000: $30,000 to the individual class members and $520,000 in attorney’s fees and court costs, which will be used to further support the NAD’s mission “to preserve, protect and promote the civil, human and linguistic rights of deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States of America.”

“This historic lawsuit and settlement demonstrates the importance of centralized funding and coordination of reasonable accommodation to truly ensure an accessible and equal workplace for people with disabilities. We hope that this case brings about change across all federal agencies, state agencies, and the private sector to use centralized reasonable accommodations and thereby improve employment for all people with disabilities,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, Chief Executive Officer of the NAD.

“After advocating for many years to ensure access to legally required reasonable accommodations, and to remove disincentives to hiring, retaining, and promoting deaf and hard of hearing employees, we are thrilled with the settlement in this case,” said Timothy McLaughlin of Latham & Watkins.

“This is a transformative result not only for those directly impacted in this case, but also for countless others who will benefit in the years to come,” said John A. Carriel, an attorney with Zelle, who served as co-class counsel. “We were honored to represent the class, and delighted to have taken part in the cohesive partnership that achieved this result.”

About the National Association of the Deaf

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), established in 1880, is the nation’s premier civil rights organization safeguarding the civil, human, and linguistics rights of 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the U.S., including hundreds of thousands whose primary language is American Sign Language.

About Zelle LLP

Zelle is an international litigation and dispute resolution law firm committed to pro bono litigation. With offices in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, London, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Oakland, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, Zelle represents clients in challenging, high-stakes insurance-related disputes, antitrust/competition and other complex business litigation in the United States and around the world. 

About Latham & Watkins LLP

Latham & Watkins delivers innovative solutions to complex legal and business challenges around the world. From a global platform, our lawyers advise clients on market-shaping transactions, high-stakes litigation and trials, and sophisticated regulatory matters. Latham is one of the world’s largest providers of pro bono services, steadfastly supports initiatives designed to advance diversity within the firm and the legal profession, and is committed to exploring and promoting environmental sustainability.