By Brendan O'Brien
Jan 11 (Reuters) - The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on
Thursday reversed a lower court ruling that had blocked a
22-year-old deaf man from becoming a lifeguard in Michigan.
The appeals court remanded the case to the U.S. District
Court for the Eastern District of Michigan for further
In 2006 Nicholas Keith, who has been deaf since birth,
passed an Oakland County lifeguard training course with the help
of an American Sign Language interpreter who relayed
instructions but did not assist in performing lifesaving tasks.
During the following year, Keith completed the county's
lifeguard training program, also with the assistance of an
interpreter, and was hired to be a guard at a wave pool,
conditioned on an pre-employment physical.
According to court records, the doctor who performed the
physical told Keith that he could not be a lifeguard because he
In 2008 Keith applied for another position but was
disqualified because of the earlier physical.
He filed a complaint accusing the county of violating the
Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
The county argued that Keith was not qualified to be a
lifeguard because he is unable to communicate effectively with
lifeguards, patrons and injured people. The county also argued
that hiring an additional lifeguard as an interpreter was an
Keith argued that the job offer was revoked because of
"unfounded fear and speculation" and that he only needed an
interpreter for instruction. He also complained that the county
failed to make an individualized inquiry regarding his ability
to do the job and determine whether he could be accommodated.
The district court ruled that the doctor failed to make an
individualized inquiry but determined that the county, as the
final decision-maker, did so adequately. The court ruled Keith
failed to show he could perform essential communication
functions and, as a result, the county had not violated the ADA.
In an 18-page ruling, the appeals court questioned how the
county came to its individualized inquiry to satisfy the ADA
mandate and determined reasonable minds could differ as to
whether Keith was qualified.
The appeals court also ruled that a reasonable jury could
find that providing an interpreter during meetings and
instruction would be objectively reasonable and directed the
court to address the merits of an argument over "interactive
Attorneys for Keith and the county were unavailable for
comment on Thursday.
The case is U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit,
For Keith: Donald Fulkerson.
For Oakland County: John Lynch of Vanderveer Garzia.
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