The U.S. Department of Justice has settled a complaint against the Arizona Interscholastic Association, Inc. (“AIA”), that alleged the AIA discriminated against an individual with a disability by refusing to permit the use of a sign language interpreter during tennis matches in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Title III applies to public accommodations, commercial facilities, and private entities offering certain examinations and courses.

 The case involved the AIA’s Director’s decision to prohibit a deaf tennis player from using a sign language interpreter to provide interpreting services during a AIA-sponsored tennis tournament, except between sets or before and after the match.  Prior to the tournament at issue, the tennis player had been permitted to use language interpreting services during all school-sponsored tennis matches.  The Director’s decision was made in response to a protest filed by an opposing coach.  As part of its investigation, the DOJ determined that, as result of the Director’s decision, the tennis player was unable to communicate effectively with her partner and opposing players during the match.

As part of its settlement with the DOJ, the AIA agreed to implement policies and procedures designed to afford individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing a benefit equal to that provided to others, and to ensure that appropriate auxiliary aids and services would be provided where necessary to afford effective communication during AIA-sponsored tennis matches.  The AIA also agreed to amend its Tournament Guidelines to add the following:

 An interpreter shall be allowed to stand or sit at a side of the playing area so as to facilitate effective communication among the players and others.

Moreover, under the terms of the settlement, the AIA will designate one person within the organization as the AIA’s ADA Coordinator. The Coordinator would be responsible for, among other things, ensuring that AIA promptly and properly responds to any request for reasonable modification or auxiliary aid.

Earlier this year, the DOJ settled a case it had brought against a youth football league in Western Pennsylvania after the agency determined the league had violated Title III when it failed to make a reasonable modification of its policies, practices, and procedures to permit a participant with severe visual impairments to use a tinted visor when playing football.

Jackson Lewis attorneys regularly advise clients from all parts of the sports world on compliance with their obligations under the ADA’s public accommodations provisions.  The firm will continue to monitor the DOJ’s aggressive enforcement of Title III.