Mark Gomez, a 60-year-old man from Aurora, Illinois, who is deaf, filed a federal lawsuit against CSL Plasma for not allowing him to donate plasma simply because he is deaf.
Mr. Gomez is fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and requested an ASL interpreter so that he could understand the registration materials. CSL Plasma, one of the world's largest plasma donation networks, claims it is not required to comply with federal and state discrimination laws and therefore, not required to provide an ASL interpreter. The lawsuit, Gomez v. CSL Plasma, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. The suit claims that CSL Plasma's actions are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Donations of blood plasma are always needed to help fight various diseases and conditions including hemophilia, shock or trauma, immune deficiencies and other blood disorders. And the need for donations of blood plasma is even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic, as blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 may help treat those who become infected.
"I just want to donate plasma to help others, while paying my mortgage and household expenses," said plaintiff Mark Gomez. "My friends and family have donated with CSL Plasma, but I can’t just because I'm deaf. That's discrimination."
On July 28, 2018, Mr. Gomez went to the CSL Plasma donation center located at 1500 Douglas Road, in Montgomery, Illinois, in Kane County, west of Chicago. He disclosed his deafness and his inability to lipread, and asked for an ASL interpreter to help him understand the registration materials. Staff said they could not assist him. When he returned again later that week, he was again denied the requested accommodation, and CSL Plasma continues to refuse to provide him with an ASL interpreter.
"We hope this case will not only address the discrimination faced by Mr. Gomez but also establish positive precedent that CSL Plasma is not above the law and is obligated to accommodate people with disabilities," said Barry C. Taylor, VP for Civil Rights at Equip for Equality and one of the attorneys on the case. "This could have been easily remedied if CSL Plasma had provided an ASL interpreter instead of denying our client the opportunity to donate blood plasma."
To make matters worse, instead of providing an ASL interpreter, CSL offered to provide a Spanish-speaking staff member to interpret the registration materials, but Mr. Gomez does not speak or understand Spanish.
"CSL Plasma obviously made certain assumptions and offered Spanish translation based solely on the plaintiff's Hispanic-sounding surname rather than provide an interpreter in the language he truly needed: American Sign Language," said Steven Blonder, a principal at Much, which is handling the case on a pro bono basis. "At a time when blood and blood plasma donations are critical to help fight COVID-19, CSL Plasma's actions not only violate the law, but undercut sound public health policy."