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August 2, 2013
WASHINGTON, DC, August 2, 2013 — The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a precedent setting settlement earlier this week that will establish state-of-the-art reforms in the procedures and technology for delivering interpreter services to a nationwide class of 6,000 current and former deaf and hearing-impaired employees of the U.S. Postal Service. In addition, the settlement provides for approximately $3 million in compensatory damages. The lawsuit, Hubbard, et al. v. Donohue, sought redress under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, deadly anthrax was sent to media outlets and two U.S. senators through the mail system. Covington responded to a request by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs to provide pro bono representation to deaf and hearing impaired postal workers who were not provided sufficient, qualified sign language interpreters to give adequate notice and explanations of the dangers of handling mail containing anthrax.
“Following the 2001 anthrax crisis, we brought this class-action litigation to ensure adequate access to the interpreter services for deaf and hearing impaired employees of the Postal Service who might be endangered,” said Thomas Williamson, who led the Covington team. “The settlement approved by the court means that our clients throughout the country will have greatly enhanced and technologically up-to-date opportunities to receive information about critical safety issues and work place communications in the same time frame as employees who can hear. The Postal Service has agreed to adopt reforms that we believe will be a model for nationwide employers of deaf workers and will assist those workers in realizing their full potential on the job.”
Over the past 11 years, Covington and a team of co-counsel vigorously litigated this class action and then engaged in intensive mediation efforts with the Postal Service that resulted in a comprehensive, innovative settlement. The resolution was facilitated by the creative and skillful efforts of Kenneth Feinberg, who served as mediator at the request of the parties.
The most important terms of the settlement are the reforms to be implemented by the Postal Service that will greatly expand the deployment and timely availability of qualified American Sign Language interpreters for important safety and workplace communications for deaf Postal Service employees throughout the country. The class members will also share in a fund of compensatory damages of approximately $3 million.
Covington has committed to donate its share of the attorneys’ fees to public interest legal organizations that provide their services on a pro bono basis. Working with Covington as co-counsel were the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, the James McCollum firm in Prince Georges County, and Kevin Flesch of Denver, Colorado.
In addition to Mr. Williamson, the Covington team included Chris Denig, Shankar Duraiswamy, Kristin Hucek, Phyllis Jones and Libbie Canter.