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Noll v. International Business Machines Corp.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

May 21, 2015

ALFRED J. NOLL, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MACHINES CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee

Argued October 8, 2014.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Alfred J. Noll appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Baer, J.), granting summary judgment in favor of International Business Machines Corp. (" IBM" ). Noll contends that IBM refused to reasonably accommodate his deafness when it declined to caption all the videos and provide transcripts of all the audio files that are hosted on its corporate intranet, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the New York State Human Rights Law. We conclude that (I) IBM reasonably accommodated Noll by providing American Sign Language interpreters capable of translating intranet files, and (II) in light of this accommodation, Noll has no claim that IBM failed to engage him in an interactive process. Affirmed.

EUGENE FELDMAN (Michael A. Schwartz, Disability Rights Clinic, Syracuse University College of Law, Syracuse, New York, on the brief), Law Office of Eugene Feldman, Hermosa Beach, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

WILLIS J. GOLDSMITH (Karen Rosenfield, on the brief), Jones Day, New York, New York, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before: JACOBS, SACK, and DRONEY, Circuit Judges. Judge Sack dissents in a separate opinion.

OPINION

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DENNIS JACOBS, Circuit Judge:

Alfred J. Noll, a software engineer, sued his employer for disability discrimination, alleging that International Business Machines Corp. (" IBM" ) did not accommodate his deafness by arranging that all video files stored on its corporate intranet be captioned when posted and that all audio files likewise be posted with transcripts. Noll asserts claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (" ADA" ), 42 U.S.C. § 12112, and the New York State Human Rights Law (" NYSHRL" ), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, and appeals from the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Baer, J.), dismissing those claims on summary judgment. The district court held that IBM reasonably accommodated Noll by providing American Sign Language (" ASL" ) interpreters capable of translating files at Noll's request and that, in light of this accommodation, Noll has no claim that IBM failed to engage him in an interactive process.

On appeal, Noll argues (I) that the district court overlooked portions of the record creating a factual dispute about the effectiveness of ASL interpreters (and hence, whether they were a reasonable accommodation), and (II) that IBM is liable for failure to engage in an interactive process regardless of whether it provided reasonable accommodation. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

Noll, who is deaf, has worked as a software engineer at IBM since 1984, enjoying consistently positive performance reviews. In performing his work, Noll uses several

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accommodations provided by IBM, including on-site and remote ASL interpreters, as well as measures described as " communication access real-time translation ('CART'), internet based real-time transcription, and video relay services." Noll is active on behalf of IBM employees who are deaf and hearing-impaired, and helped develop many of the company's accommodations for that group.

IBM maintains a corporate intranet for its approximately 440,000 employees worldwide. Content ranges from official management messages to educational and training resources to such personal material as employees' vacation photos. The intranet hosts a huge volume of video and audio files in a number of locations, and thousands of files are continuously being uploaded. IBM's Media Library alone stores over 46,000 video files (and over 35,000 audio files), of which only about 100 videos are captioned.

From 2003 to 2008, Noll frequently asked the Persons with Disabilities program manager at IBM for captioning of particular intranet videos or transcripts of audio files. On these occasions, IBM typically provided Noll with transcripts (of both video and audio files) rather than on-screen captioning. However, the process of obtaining transcripts was imperfect: although transcripts were generally made available within five days of Noll's request, they occasionally took longer, and links to transcripts were sometimes broken.

During the relevant period, Noll also had access to ASL interpreters who provided real-time translation services, either on-site or remotely, for intranet content as well as for live meetings. The process by which IBM employees at the Poughkeepsie office (where Noll worked) could request and get ASL interpreters was coordinated by Noll.

Noll, who is fluent in ASL, regularly used the interpreters when he attended live meetings, and found them to be effective. Noll disliked using ASL interpreters for videos because he found it " confusing and tiring" to look ...


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