Judge Denies NPR Request To Dismiss Lawsuit Filed By Former Intern

By: Ben Mook, Current, May 13, 2015

A Washington, D.C., judge has denied a bid by NPR to dismiss an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by a deaf college student who interned at the network.

NPR had filed for summary judgment Jan. 13, claiming that the lawsuit filed by student Catherine Nugent was groundless. NPR contested Nugent’s allegations that she was misled about the duties of her summer 2013 marketing internship and that she was not provided accommodations required by the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

In a summary judgment ruling, a judge examines evidence and case law in the best light for the plaintiff and decides whether only one reasonable verdict is possible. D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian F. Holeman denied NPR’s motion April 29, saying that Nugent met the legal burden to sustain the lawsuit.

Nugent filed the lawsuit in March 2014. Nugent, a major in business administration at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., alleged that NPR did not give her tools she needed to communicate with supervisors. She also claimed that she expected to learn about marketing but was instead assigned to teach sign-language classes to colleagues.

According to Nugent, NPR did not provide interpreters or interpreting software and fired her two weeks into the 10-week internship after she asked for accommodation multiple times.

“She was very isolated,” Nugent’s lawyer Linda Correia told Current. “It was terrible how they treated her.”

NPR’s legal team did not return calls for comment.

According to court documents, Nugent does not speak and uses American Sign Language as her primary means of communication. Gallaudet University provides programs and services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

In the lawsuit, Nugent said she learned in April 2013 about a paid marketing internship at NPR for deaf students. She claimed she was not told that two other students had turned the internship down after learning that they would teach sign language. Nugent said NPR then played down the teaching aspect of the internship, saying that she would do little more than develop lesson plans.

After starting the internship, Nugent said, she learned she would have to teach daily ASL classes to NPR staffers, yet she was denied tools she would need to communicate with the students.

In its brief seeking to have the case dismissed, NPR said it had told Nugent about the teaching component and that because Nugent was told, it was immaterial if the internship ad and the initial interview did not mention it.

Nugent also claimed that NPR did not answer her repeated requests for an interpreter or interpreting software. She said she was asked to attend regular brown-bag lunch meetings where, instead of using an interpreter, another intern would transcribe the proceedings on a laptop for her to read.

NPR denied that it failed to accommodate Nugent’s needs and that Nugent did not take necessary steps to work with the company about what accommodations would be reasonable.

Correia said she and her client are requesting a jury trial and will seek compensatory and punitive damages for misrepresentation and alleged violations of the D.C. Human Rights Act.

View the Current article here.