A 60-year-old deaf man is suing a blood plasma company because it would not accept his plasma, nor would it provide him with someone who knows sign language.
The lawsuit was filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division by attorneys for Equip for Equality, advocacy organization for people with disabilities.
The lawsuit alleges that the Montgomery location of CSL Plasma Inc., violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when it denied Mark Gomez of Aurora, who is deaf, an American Sign Language interpreter to translate the registration materials from English so he could understand them.
Robert Mitchell, marketing director for CSL Plasma, said the company cannot comment because it has not been been served yet.
“But once we are served, we will defend as we believe appropriately,” Mitchell said.
Gomez went to CSL Plasma, 1500 Douglas Road, Montgomery, on July 18, 2018, to earn money to pay his mortgage and household expenses, as the company pays its plasma donors, according to the lawsuit.
Gomez’s primary language is American Sign Language.
He told a staff member at the Montgomery plasma site that he was deaf and needed an ASL interpreter to translate the registration documents into ASL, but the staff member refused, according to the lawsuit.
Gomez was not denied the opportunity to donate plasma because he is in poor health or because his plasma posed a safety risk to the blood supply, the lawsuit stated. Gomez was denied the opportunity to donate plasma because he could not understand the registration forms, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit asserts that it was the plasma company’s legal obligation under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide an ASL interpreter so Gomez could have understood the registration materials, the lawsuit stated.
“Defendant’s continuing refusal to provide an ASL interpreter for (Gomez) constitutes discrimination under Title III of the ADA,” the lawsuit stated. “Defendant’s plasma donation center in Montgomery is a service establishment that affects commerce and is a public accommodation under Title III.”
Instead of an ASL interpreter, the plasma company offered Gomez a Spanish-speaking staff member. But Gomez did not grow up in a Spanish-speaking household and does not speak or understand Spanish, the lawsuit stated.
Gomez’s lawsuit asks that CSL Plasma be ordered to offer equivalent services to people with disabilities – including deaf people – as well as actual and punitive damages, reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit does not state how much money is being sought.
'It was against company policy'
Among exhibits attached to the lawsuit is a Nov. 19, 2018 letter from Rachel Arfa, an Equip for Equality attorney, to CSL Plasma, which states that Gomez had asked if his son could help him interpret the questions into ASL so he could understand them, but the staff told him his son could not help him.
Arfa’s letter also states that Gomez returned to the plasma center with Barbara Pacourek, a disability advocate with AIM Center for Independent Living, who asked a manager that Gomez be provided with an ASL interpreter.
The manager “told them that it was against company policy to provide an ASL interpreter and denied the request,” according to Arfa’s letter.
Her letter states that Gomez wants to complete the registration process so he can be considered for plasma donation, and she offered to provide suggestions of ASL interpreter agencies if needed.
Arfa’s letter also asserts that plasma donation centers are places of public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In a Dec. 21, 2018 letter to Arfa, Eric Silberstein, lead counsel for CSL Plasma, disputed that plasma donation centers are places of public accommodation, citing a 2018 U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
Mark Silguero and Amy Wolf sued the same plasma company, CSL Plasma, Inc., in Texas. Silguero used a cane and Wolf had anxiety and required a service animal, and were denied the ability to donate, according to court records.
“The Fifth Circuit held that a plasma center does not offer plasma collection as a ‘service’ to the public and therefore, not a ‘service establishment,’” Silberstein’s letter stated.
The Fifth Circuit's decision stated, "The district court granted summary judgment in CSL Plasma's favor. It concluded that those laws did not apply because CSL Plasma was neither a "public accommodation" under the ADA nor a "public facility" under the THRC (Texas Human Resources Code)," according to court records.
DOJ on plasma donation centers
However, the U.S. Department of Justice argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that a plain language reading of the statute shows that "a plasma donation center is a service establishment because it provides plasma procurement services."
The district court concluded that a plasma donation center is not a service center because individuals do not pay the center for its services, according to the DOJ brief.
“Some commercial entities that qualify as service establishments, such as banks and recycling centers, do not always receive a fee for their services; on the contrary, in some circumstances, these establishments pay clients for their patronage,” according to the DOJ brief.
The common element is that each provides services via expertise or specialized equipment or both, the brief stated.
“A plasma donation center provides services by supplying expert technicians and medical staff and specialized equipment like apheresis machines,” the brief stated.
“Plasma procurement is a service under an ordinary interpretation of the word,” according to the DOJ. “Dictionary definitions of ‘service’ easily encompass the act of taking people’s blood plasma to use for medicines and treatment.”
The DOJ brief also cited a 10th Circuit decision against another plasma company, Octapharma Plasma, which similarly argued that a donation center is not a service establishment and not a public accommodation under the ADA.
The 10th Circuit concluded that plasma donation centers are service establishments recognized by the ADA, according to the brief.