Design school fined in deaf discrimination case

The Helsinki District Court has slapped a fine 1,200-euro on the head of a private Helsinki design school for retracting its offer of a place to a deaf applicant. The court found the institution and its principal guilty of discrimination but the defendants say they are considering an appeal.

Helsinki Design Schoolin ulko-ovi kuvattuna Helsingissä 1. helmikuuta 2016.
Helsinki Design School Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Back in 2014, privately-run Helsinki Design School turned away design student Oskari Salomaa, citing insufficient resources to provide interpreter services. The institution had previously accepted Salomaa for the year-long program, but retracted the place when it learned of his special needs.

On Monday, the Helsinki District Court ruled that the school had violated non-discrimination laws in refusing Salomaa the opportunity to study.

The court imposed a fine of 1,280 euros on the school CEO and also called on the institution and its chief executive to compensate Salomaa to the tune of 8,000 euros. The defendants are also required to settle Salomaa’s legal expenses, which amounted to nearly 8,500 euros.

Salomaa said that he was pleased with the outcome.

Espoolainen kuuro Oskari Salomaa Helsingin käräjäoikeudessa keskiviikkona 20. tammikuuta 2016.
Oskari Salomaa said that the case has derailed his career plans. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

"This means that sign language users have a right to be part of Finnish society. I won’t appeal the decision," Salomaa said after the ruling.

Lawyer for the defendants, Jaana Juutilainen said that she was disappointed with the court’s decision.

"It’s very likely that we will see fit to take the case to the Court of Appeal," Juutilainen remarked.

No time for special arrangements

Although Salomaa had been accepted to study at the school early in 2014, the school only learned that he was deaf when his interpreter reached out to the school one week before his studies were due to begin.

The school justified withdrawing the study opportunity by saying that it did not have sufficient time to make the necessary special arrangements for Salomaa. It also noted that Salomaa learned he was accepted in May and did not contact the school until autumn. However the court pointed out that the institution’s application form had no place for applicants to indicate any special needs.

The school’s CEO noted that it is a private fee-paying institution that does not receive public support, and that its operations are not supervised by any government authority.

As such it felt that it was not required to abide by non-discrimination laws. However the court found that in spite of the school’s situation, it was obliged to observe non-discrimination regulations.

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