INTERNSHIPS / AUG. 12, 2014
version 6, draft 6

Deaf Intern Sues NPR for Employment Discrimination

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A former National Public Radio (NPR) intern is suing the media establishment for employment discrimination.

Catherine Nugent-a student at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.-joined the company’s 10-week internship program in June 2013 after she learned that they offered accommodations for deaf interns.

According to Current.org, the college student filed a lawsuit against the media company in March 2014 for violations of the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977, which specifically prohibits internship discrimination:

(4) By an employer, employment agency or labor organization -

(A) To discriminate against any individual in admission to or the employment in,

any program established to provide apprenticeship or other training of 

retraining, including an on-the-job training program…

She claims that NPR misrepresented the terms of the marketing intern position, which eventually led to her termination two weeks into the program.

As a business administration major, Nugent expected to learn more about her field through hands-on training experience.

Nugent claims that NPR instead required her to teach American Sign Language (ASL) classes to the employees without the proper tools needed to communicate with her colleagues or supervisors. Nugent is an uncertified ASL instructor and says the only assistance she had was the help of another deaf intern who was unfamiliar with the language.

The lawsuit states that Nugent persistently requested assistance from interpretation software. Nugent does not speak, so for her, the experience was very humiliating and isolating.

Her attorney Linda Correia says that the details of her treatment are quite shocking, especially when a well-known media company is involved in such insensitive acts.

“An employer is required to ensure an employee is able to work and not be treated differently from other staff who do not happen to be deaf," Correia said. "It’s pretty basic stuff, and it’s astonishing NPR doesn’t get it.”

 

Nugent also complains that NPR’s reason for “employing [her] was to assist in its public relations strategy to build enthusiasm in the media for its new outreach programming targeting deaf persons.”  

She alleges that Gallaudet University was producing a video documentary about the internship and a magazine wanted to interview her about her experience. Nugent discovered that NPR’s “Breaking the Sound Barrier” and the interview was a coexisting project about implementing captioned radio for hearing impaired people.

This was yet another deceptive job requirement in the program that threw up a red flag for Nugent. 

Correia and Nugent filed the claim in the District of Columbia Superior Court with the request of a jury trial. They plan to seek punitive damages.

NPR has previously denied involvement in the allegations and maintains the stance that accommodations were provided to Nugent during her time with the network.

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