Legal Briefing: Sign Language Sufficient

By Mark Kobata

Aug. 4, 2015

Alfred Noll, a deaf engineer at IBM Corp., requested that video files stored on IBM’s intranet be captioned when posted and that all audio files be postedwith transcripts. IBM denied his request because it already provided Noll with transcripts of both video and audio files upon request and provided sign language interpreters who could immediately provide translation services for the files. Noll sued IBM under the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York state law, alleging disability discrimination by denying his request.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted summary judgment to IBM, holding that it reasonably accommodated Noll. The 2nd Circuit appellate court affirmed. The ADA imposes no liability on an employer for failure to explore alternative accommodations “when the accommodations provided to the employee were plainly reasonable.” Noll v. International Business Machines Corp., No. 13-4096, 2nd Circuit (May 21, 2015). 

Impact: The ADA does not require an employer to provide a preferred accommodation for an employee with a disability; rather, it requires only that it provide a plainly reasonable accommodation.

Mark T. Kobata and Marty Denis are partners in the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has office in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago. To comment, email

Mark Kobata and Marty Denis are partners at the law firm Barlow, Kobata and Denis, which has offices in Beverly Hills, California, and Chicago.

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