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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Texas

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Austin Culinary School Agrees to Monitoring and Penalties to Resolve Allegations of Disability Discrimination in Civil Settlement with the United States

The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts, a culinary school in Austin, Texas, has agreed to settle charges of disability discrimination brought by the United States Department of Justice, announced United States Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr. this afternoon. 

The settlement resolves allegations that the school violated the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).  Under the ADA, businesses generally must provide aids such as sign-language interpreters when necessary to communicate with individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The Department of Justice opened its investigation into the Academy based on a complaint from Heather Suhr, who had applied to the Academy’s professional chef training program. After Ms. Suhr informed the Academy that she is deaf and that she expected to need a sign language interpreter, the Academy denied her admission. When Ms. Suhr asked the Academy to reconsider, the Academy required her to visit from out of state and declined to provide a sign-language interpreter during her visit, so that Ms. Suhr had to arrange her own interpreter. Ms. Suhr tried to discuss with the Academy what sort of communication aids might work for her, but as the Department of Justice’s investigation determined, the Academy did not respond adequately to Ms. Suhr’s efforts. After over seven months of trying to work with the Academy, Ms. Suhr finally withdrew her application. Based on its investigation, the Department of Justice determined that the Academy had discriminated against Ms. Suhr in violation of the ADA.

Under the settlement announced today, the Academy agreed to implement a new nondiscrimination policy and to monitoring by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas. The Academy also agreed to pay Ms. Suhr $8,000 and to pay the United States a civil penalty of $1,000. In return, the United States and Ms. Suhr agreed not to file suit against the Academy.

To file a complaint that a business has violated the ADA, go to or fax a copy of the complaint to (202) 307-1197.

Assistant United States Attorney Zachary Richter handled this matter for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas.

Updated June 30, 2016