A young deaf girl, Megan Runnion, was given a social life through the Girl Scouts because the Scouts’ council paid for a sign-language interpreter to attend Scout meetings, a camping trip, and other outings.
But who should continue to pay for a sign-language interpreter? That has become a question-turned-lawsuit, The Chicago Tribune reports, that was filed on the 12-year-old’s behalf, alleging that the Girl Scouts disbanded Megan’s troop “early this year in retaliation for her mother’s efforts to keep the 100-year-old organization paying for the interpreter.”
The lawsuit claimed that the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana excluded Megan because of her inability to hear and therefore violated the federal Rehabilitation Act.
The lawsuit alleges that when Megan joined the Girl Scouts in Kindergarten, Megan’s mother, Edie Runnion, requested that an interpreter be present at Scouting activities, and the Girl Scouts agreed. But in the fall of 2011, Runnion was told that the “council does not pay for these services,” the lawsuit claimed.
After another request to the Girl Scouts by Runnion, the local council complied only after Equip for Equality and the National Association for the Deaf sent a letter requesting an interpreter for an event, according to the lawsuit. The Girl Scouts, though, called the granted measure temporary, and, in January, broke the news that the troop was disbanding immediately. The lawsuit claims that the leaders later told Runnion that the troop was disbanded because the cost of the interpreter had led the Girl Scouts to place too many restrictions on the troop.
Runnion said she later learned that the Girl Scouts would only pay up to $50 a month for support services for girls with special needs. She also said that her family of six relies on her husband’s income as an inventory purchaser and cannot afford the expense of an interpreter. The director of the Chicago Hearing Society said an interpreter in the Chicago area costs, on average, between $55 to $60 an hour for a minimum two-hour assignment, and it may be higher for weekend assignments.
The Chicago Tribune reported that “federal law requires that nonprofits and businesses serving the general public make accommodations for those who have disabilities, including ‘effective communication’ for those who are hard of hearing. But organizations can avoid the requirement if they can prove the accommodation would produce an ‘undue burden’ on the institution, an expert said.”
While no one for the Girl Scouts would not comment specifically on the lawsuit, a local representative sent an email saying that the organization “welcomes all girls as members.” Spokeswoman Julie Somogyi said in the statement, “Girl Scouts has a long history of adapting activities for girls who have special needs….In fact, our founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was hearing impaired.”