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For Immediate Release:  
For Further Information Contact:
May 2, 2005

Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General
Division on Civil Rights
- J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, Director

 

Lee Moore
609-292-4791

 

AG Announces Finding of Probable Cause in Deaf Discrimination Complaint;
Auto Parts Firm Accused of Denying Service to Man Who Phoned Using TTY Device

TRENTON – Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and the Division on Civil Rights announced today that the State has issued a Finding of Probable Cause against an Essex County auto supply firm for allegedly refusing service to a deaf man who tried to contact the business using a TTY or “telephone typewriter,” and the services of a New Jersey Relay operator.

Named as a Respondent in the Finding of Probable Cause document is Herman’s Auto Parts and Supplies of Livingston. The deaf man, Hamphil Hudson, of Orange, alleges in his complaint that Herman’s refused to accept a call he made to them using the TTY and the free services of a New Jersey Relay operator.

A Finding of Probable Cause means the State has finished its investigation, and has determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion that the actions of Herman’s Auto Parts and Supplies violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).

“We are long past the point where a business can announce to a person, ‘We don’t serve your kind.’ The Law Against Discrimination requires that businesses treat all customers equally, regardless of their mode of communication,” said Attorney General Harvey. “No one can decide not to do business with someone because he or she is deaf or hard of hearing. “

New Jersey is home to an estimated 720,000 of the nation’s 28 million persons who are deaf and hard of hearing. In 2004 alone, 950,000 relay operator calls were made through the New Jersey Relay Service. According to NECA, the National Exchange Carrier Association, 19.2 million minutes of phone time was used for relay service nationwide between July 2004 and March 2005.

According to Harvey, persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired are able to converse by telephone using a TTY, which allows them to communicate by typing messages instead of talking into the telephone receiver. During a telephone conversation between a TTY user and someone without a TTY, a relay operator is used as an intermediary. The relay operator reads aloud what has been typed by the TTY user, and then types the spoken response from the hearing person in return. Harvey said the NJ Relay Service, accessible in New Jersey by dialing 7-1-1, is a free service.

”New Jersey is home to hundreds of thousands of persons who are either deaf or have some degree of hearing loss,”said the Attorney General. “Combining the use of a TTY and the services of a relay operator is a valuable means of communication for those individuals, as well as persons who are speech-impaired. Anyone who chooses to do so should be able to access businesses and services using this process.”

According to Division on Civil Rights Director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, Hudson alleges in his Complaint that he made several calls to Herman’s, and when they heard the call was being handled by a relay operator, they responded “Oh, no!” and hung up. Hudson further alleges that, when the relay operator immediately called back, a different person answered the phone and said, “Herman’s Auto Parts and Supplies doesn’t deal with the hearing impaired.”

Vespa-Papaleo said the ownership of Herman’s has told Division on Civil Rights investigators that there are legitimate business reasons for refusing relay calls. According to Vespa-Papaleo, the owner explained that the last time a relay call was accepted at Herman’s, a large order totaling $2,000 was placed using a fraudulent credit card. Although the apparent fraud was detected prior to the actual shipping of any merchandise, the owner said she decided not to accept any more relay calls, the Director noted.

“It is a shame that, just because of one unfortunate experience, a business would treat everyone who makes use of a vital communications tool like the New Jersey Relay Service as if they were going to commit fraud," said Vespa-Papaleo.

Brian C. Shomo, Director of the Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing within the New Jersey Department of Human Services, applauded Attorney General Harvey and the Division on Civil Rights for pursuing this case.

“This case is important in ensuring protection for all those who rely on the relay services to conduct our daily business,” said Shomo. “This will educate others about the importance of relay service usage, too. All too often, an uninformed recipient will hang up because a call is from a deaf or hard of hearing person using the relay services.”

Shomo added that anyone with a question about services for the deaf and hard of hearing, including relay services, interpreter services and assistive listening devices, can call the Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing at 609-984-7281.

The Division on Civil Rights is responsible for enforcement of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Family Leave Act. Specifically, the Division investigates allegations of discrimination in employment, housing, places of public accommodation and credit.

Now that the Division has issued a Finding of Probable Cause, the case will be referred for Conciliation. If Conciliation is not successful, the case will be sent to an Administrative Law Judge for a non-jury trial.

The Division on Civil Rights has six offices located in Newark, Trenton, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City and Paterson. The Division recently established its first-ever Disabilities and Public Accommodations Unit, which conducted this investigation. Further information about the Division is available by visiting www.NJCivilRights.org .

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