Three organizations representing deaf students say the executive producer of the Utah Shakespeare Festival dared them to sue. So they did.
But a day after it was filed, the case was dismissed.
The Utah School for the Deaf and Blind, the Jean Massieu School of the Deaf and the Utah Association of the Deaf filed a lawsuit Thursday in federal court against the festival for refusing to provide American Sign Language interpreters for their students for a performance of “Hamlet.”
The plaintiffs alleged that the Shakespeare festival; its executive producer, Frank Mack; and Southern Utah University violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because they “denied” deaf students “equal protection of the laws when they refused to provide effective communication” in the form of ASL interpreters.
The lawsuit comes after a Sept. 20 meeting, when the plaintiffs asserted Mack “was adamant that … captioning was sufficient” for audience members who are deaf.
According to the lawsuit, Mack “encouraged” Michelle Tanner, the associate superintendent of the deaf at USDB, “to sue him” if she disagreed. “Then, he stormed off.”
Along with the lawsuit, the plaintiffs filed a motions for temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunction — actions that would have required the festival to provide ASL interpreters.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups wrote an order Friday denying the groups’ motions, saying that the plaintiffs failed to show that without ASL interpreters, there would be “irreparable injury" and also that they didn’t show their case was “likely to succeed on the merits," which are the legal standards for issuing temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunction, respectively.
The group filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit the same day.
“We are grateful for the swift review of this case,” festival executive director Frank Mack said in a statement. “Now we can refocus on the 3,700 high school students that are participating in our annual Shakespeare Competition, which is the largest scholastic Shakespeare competition in the country."
The lawsuit hinged, in part, on The Utah Shakespeare Festival providing captioning of performances, which is cited as acceptable accommodation for people with hearing impairments in Americans with Disabilities Act, instead of ASL.
The plaintiffs asserted that captions aren’t adequate for deaf students.
Still, Waddoups wrote, that isn’t enough for the court to take action.
“While the court does not doubt this assertion, and appreciates Plaintiffs’ efforts to help its students ‘to appreciate Shakespeare’s clever and experimental use of language’ the ADA simply does not require public entities to provide the ‘best’ accommodation,” he said.
The lawsuit also said that while the Utah Shakespeare Festival provided ASL interpreters for its students from 2011-2017, the plaintiffs were informed on Aug. 19 that USF would neither provide interpreters nor reimburse the schools for providing their own this year.
Waddoups said that, “Because Plaintiffs have already arranged their own interpreter for the October 4, 2019 performance, the real harm at issue in Plaintiffs’ motion is that they are having to pay for the interpreter. Because such harm can ‘be compensated after the fact,’ it is not irreparable.”