CREECblog

CREEC and Co-Counsel File Motion for Preliminary Injunction to Protect Protesters with Disabilities

CREEC and co-counsel represent a group of disabled individuals who have been protesting racialized police violence in Portland Oregon since the murder of George Floyd in late May, 2020.  These brave and righteous plaintiffs challenge law enforcement practices that discriminate against them on the basis of disability, exclude them from Portland’s ostensible protection of free speech, and chill their exercise of First Amendment rights.

In Portland, police have used strobe lights on protesters with epilepsy, separated disabled protesters from service animals and human assistants, and rely heavily on verbal announcements that are not accessible to Deaf protesters and do not contain sufficient information for blind protesters to attempt to comply.

Last November, CREEC, the Disability Rights Legal Center, and the Portland law firm of Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution against the City of Portland as well as other jurisdictions whose law enforcement personnel took part in these violations.

Last week, CREEC and co-counsel filed a motion for preliminary injunction requesting an order that the defendants:

  1. Provide effective communication, such as ASL interpreters or visual messaging system, to deaf or hard of hearing people when conveying orders or directions;
  2. Stop “bull-rushing” into crowds of protestors, as this practice does not provide people with disabilities adequate time or directions to comply with law enforcement’s orders;
  3. Inform people attending protests of accessible avenues to exit the area before taking more extreme actions to disperse a crowd;
  4. Stop using chemical munitions, such as tear gas, that negatively affect people across Portland with respiratory and inflammatory disabilities, and are poisonous to service animals;
  5. Stop using strobe lights, particularly against protesters with photosensitive epilepsy; and
  6. Stop separating people with disabilities from their aides, interpreters, sighted guides and/or service animals.

People with disabilities have a long and successful history of protest, from the 28-day sit-in leading to the promulgation of the first Section 504 regulations to the “Capitol Crawl” that was one of the key moments in the push for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. CREEC is working to ensure that disabled people can continue to play a vital role protesting police brutality and violence against people of color.

Relevant documents:

Complaint
Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Investigation: Accessible On-Street Parking in Denver

If you drive a ramp-equipped van, you know how hard it is to find on-street parking.  In its attempts to beautify and modernize, Denver has done two things that make it even harder:  added planters, trees, bike racks, and other obstructions near the curb; and moved a large number of on-street spaces to the middle of the street to accommodate bike lanes.

CREEC in partnership with Michelle Uzeta, a California lawyer with extensive experience in this area, are investigating.

PLEASE CONTACT US IF YOU USE A WHEELCHAIR AND HAVE PROBLEMS WITH ON-STREET PARKING IN DENVER.

Over the past few years, Denver has constructed a network of “parking protected bike lanes,” where – as the name suggests – bike lanes are protected by a row of parked cars.  Here’s an example from 14th Street near Larimer:

Image demonstrating inaccessible parking as it is obstructed by a bike lane

While this may encourage cyclists, it has the effect of eliminating on-street parking for people with disabilities, especially those who drive or use vans with ramps that deploy out the passenger side.  As is clear from the photo above, the ramp would be blocked by the bollards and would, in any event, put the wheelchair-user in the middle of the bike lane, posing a danger to both cyclist and wheeler.

Denver has installed these lanes around the city without making up for the lost accessible parking.

In addition, Denver simply lacks sufficient accessible on-street parking.  The city counts 36 marked accessible spaces, though a number of those are inaccessible or nonexistent.  This is in contrast to the over 3,800 ordinary metered on-street parking spaces offered in the same area.  This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that many of these on-street spaces are obstructed.

inaccessible parking: trash can obstructing sidewalk  Inaccessible parking, sidewalk too narrow.

We are glad that Denver is becoming a more bike-friendly city.  We call on the city to become more wheelchair-friendly as well.

Helping Parents with Disabilities Fight Discrimination

Parents with disabilities sometimes encounter discrimination. Common culprits include their children’s schools and child welfare agencies. Sometimes the discrimination is negative treatment. For example, a school may fail to update a parent with a disability about their child’s progress while providing regular updates to parents without disabilities, or a child welfare agency may assume that, due to the parent’s disability, she is unable to take care of her child and remove the child from the home.  Other times the discrimination is failing to provide a change or service the parent needs to equally participate. For example, a school may refuse to provide written information in an alternate format to a blind parent or a child welfare agency may refuse to provide appropriately tailored services and supports so that a parent with a developmental disability can continue parenting his child at home.

Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar disability rights laws protect parents from being discriminated against due to their disabilities. While these laws cannot always prevent discrimination from happening, these laws do provide tools for fighting discrimination when it does happen.

CREEC recently worked with a Deaf mother’s attorney to ensure that her rights were protected. We were able to successfully advocate for the child’s school, the child welfare agency, and the court to provide qualified sign language interpreters for communications with our client. As a result, this mother was able to become fully involved in her son’s education, engage in constructive conversations with the welfare agency, and fully participate in her court case. Ultimately, these interactions resolved the concern about her son’s education and the court case was closed with the child remaining at home with his mother.

We are also working with co-counsel to represent a father with an intellectual disability. His children were removed from his home by a child welfare agency. The agency has asked the court to terminate his parental rights, asserting he does not have the capacity to raise his children. We have filed a complaint on this father’s behalf with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and also represent him in juvenile court. We are hopeful our representation will result in a finding of discrimination by HHS and in our client’s children returning home where they belong.

What can you do if you are a disabled parent who is being discriminated against? One option is for you (or your attorney if you already have one) to contact CREEC at intakes@creeclaw.org or at 303.757.7901 (Phone) or at 720.407.0375 (VP) for possible assistance.  We most often help with these issues by providing information about legal rights and, if needed, referrals to attorneys who may be able to provide representation. In addition, in limited instances, we co-counsel with parents’ rights attorneys to help directly address the discrimination.


For more information about the rights of parents with disabilities:

Rocking the Cradle: Ensuring the Rights of Parents with Disabilities and their Children, National Council on Disability, https://www.ncd.gov/publications/2012/Sep272012

Protecting the Rights of Parents and Prospective Parents with Disabilities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Justice, https://www.ada.gov/doj_hhs_ta/child_welfare_ta.html

Welcome Caroline and Mikhal!

CREEC is thrilled to welcome two new paralegals, Caroline Sprague and Mikhal Kidane!

Caroline is joining CREEC as an admin paralegal and will eventually relocate to the Denver office. SheGirl with glasses and short hair wearing a multicolored sweater outdoors. graduated from Brown University in December 2020 with a B.A. in American Studies, with a focus on the intersection of cultural arts and organizing. Before coming to CREEC, she held positions as an Education Rights Legal Intern at the Rhode Island Center for Justice, a Special Projects intern at Ars Nova in Manhattan, and a Senior Counselor for refugee students at Camp RYSE (Refugee Youth Solidarity through Education). Most recently, she worked as a remote organizer on a congressional campaign in her home state of Massachusetts.

While interning at the Rhode Island Center for Justice, Caroline worked within a community lawyering model and developed informational resources for immigrant parents applying for passports for their dependents. Caroline’s recognition of the critical need for savvy civil rights education, led her to apply for a paralegal position at CREEC. Her background, both academically and professionally, have led to her to focus on movements for justice through the lenses of history, Black feminism, anthropology, education studies and more.

Caroline also brings experience in admin work. At the off-Broadway theater Ars Nova, she assisted multiple departments through grant writing, forensic accounting, database upkeep, and event planning. This summer, she organized for Alex Morse in the MA-01 primary. She hosted twice-weekly phonebanks where she trained and led up to fifty volunteers at a time, and personally supervised ten undergraduate interns including through onboarding, holding check-ins, and developing personalized workplans.

At CREEC, Caroline will be supporting the Immigration Detention Accountability Project including its impact litigation to challenge the conditions of confinement in ICE detention centers, and to challenge discrimination against detained immigrants with disabilities. She will also provide administrative support to the attorneys and the entire CREEC team. Caroline says, “It couldn’t be a more important time to push for transparency, accountability, and justice — I’m honored to be joining CREEC to learn from and support the organization’s key advocacy work.”

 

Mikhal is joining CREEC as a paralegal in the Denver office. She graduated from Duke University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and minors in Political Science and Philosophy. Since then, Mikhal has worked as an organizer for Colorado Woman with her hair tied up wearing a yellow top and smilingPeople’s Action, a local non-profit organization fighting to hold elected officials and corporations accountable to the people and communities they serve. Her work there focused on building grassroots momentum behind progressive legislation and candidates and on bringing stakeholders together around social, climate, and economic justice issues. Most recently, Mikhal served as a Business and Agriculture Advising Specialist with the Peace Corps in Ghana, where she worked to develop projects at the grassroots level that were dedicated to improving food security and alleviating poverty.  Mikhal was able to develop and actualize projects with limited access to resources by being inventive and adaptive.

While a student at Duke, Mikhal acquired extensive research and policy analysis experience while working with the Research Department at Southern Africa Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU). She completed several research reports on the clothing and textiles sector, and campaigned for subsidies from the South African government to continue the mechanization of clothing and textiles– an industry that supports primarily women factory workers. Mikhal’s desire to confront deep ideological divisions and systemic inequality led her to apply for a paralegal position at CREEC. Mikhal says, “I am very excited to join the team at CREEC, not only because of their wonderful mission, but also because of the inspiring group of individuals who work there.”

Mikhal is joining the Accessibility Project team, providing support on cases involving Deaf prisoners, curb cuts, and other accessibility issues. We are so excited to have Mikhal on board and we know that her background and experience will contribute greatly to CREEC’s work.

 

Disability rights advocates sue Trump Administration for “Migrant Protection Protocols”

text overlay on border wall background says, "BREAKING: We've filed the first class-action lawsuit challenging "Remain in Mexico" on the basis of disability discrimination." Co-counsel logos are also overlayed on image.Class action lawsuit seeks relief for asylum seekers with disabilities living in Mexico.

SAN DIEGO, Cal. – Today, asylum seekers with disabilities who are forced to wait for immigration proceedings in Mexico filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its “Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy. It is the first class-action suit challenging MPP’s discriminatory practices on the grounds that they discriminate on the basis of disability. If it succeeds, not only would it hold the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accountable, hundreds of class members with disabilities would likely be allowed to wait in safer conditions stateside with their sponsors.

Under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) own stated procedures at the time of filing, asylum seekers with “known physical or mental health issues” cannot be sent to Mexico. (This policy has since been updated.) The lawsuit argues that the Trump administration’s practices infringe on federal disability protections, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  They may also violate the Administrative Procedures Act, trapping hundreds of asylum seekers with disabilities and their families in Mexico at enormous risk to their health and safety.

“The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is inherently unfit and violent for any asylum seeker, but it is particularly dangerous, and unlawful, for those living with disabilities,” said Erin Thorn Vela, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Our lawsuit is demanding that the Trump administration comply with its own stated policy. But let’s be clear, this policy has created a humanitarian catastrophe for tens of thousands of people who have the legal right to seek asylum but have been effectively barred from that right by the actions of this administration.”

The Trump administration began MPP, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” in Tijuana in January of 2019. By May of 2019 it had rolled out border wide. “Remain in Mexico” has upended decades of internationally-accepted asylum seeker practice. It has forcibly removed approximately 68,000 asylum seekers from the United States, including people with disabilities and young children, to await immigration proceedings in squalid conditions and refugee encampments.

“After countless hours imploring Customs and Border Protection to protect our clients with disabilities or severe and emergent medical needs by processing their asylum hearings safely in the United States, it was clear we needed to take additional action.” said Charlene D’Cruz, Director of Project Corazon Border Rights Program at Lawyers for Good Government Foundation. “We’re honored to partner with this esteemed group of immigration advocates and attorneys to bring this lawsuit, enforcing critical protections for those with disabilities and their legal right to seek asylum.”

“The Trump administration’s policy forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, including those with disabilities, flies in the face of our government’s obligations to people with disabilities. Such cruelty towards people seeking safety at our border is not only immoral, it’s illegal. We’ve sued to make it stop,” said Elizabeth Jordan, Immigration Detention Accountability Project Director at CREEC.

“Forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico is a stain on our country, and denies vulnerable immigrants their international and federal right to ask for protection. This administration knows that this inhumane policy hurts everyone subjected to it, but certain groups even more, such as people suffering disabilities or serious health problems. We are suing to take our country back to acting on its best principles, and not its worst impulses as it is now,” said Diego J. Aranda Teixeira, Supervising Attorney for Litigation at Al Otro Lado.

“This policy is not only unconstitutional, it targets the most vulnerable people seeking refuge in our country,” said Rob Shwarts, Partner, at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. “We’re proud to lend pro bono support from the legal community to protect those with disabilities hoping to come to the United States through the asylum process.”

The suit was filed by the Texas Civil Rights Project, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, with support from Lawyers for Good Government Foundation and on behalf of individual plaintiffs and organizational plaintiff Al Otro Lado. You can read the complaint here.

Among several plaintiffs in this class action, included are:

  • S.M.A. is a 7-year-old girl who lives with Lissencephaly more commonly known as smooth brain disorder, which is characterized by global development delays and seizures. She is incontinent and suffers from seizures.
  • D.G.M is a 51-year-old man with a growth in his heart that causes severe cardiovascular issues. While in CBP custody, his blood pressure spiked dangerously high and he was rushed to the hospital and subsequently returned to Mexico. D.G.M’s condition has worsened greatly being in Matamoros where he has been refused medical treatment.
  • C.J.V.C. is a 14-year-old boy who had his leg amputated as a result of a car accident prior to coming to the United States. He has limited mobility living in a shelter with his mother in Mexico.

 

####

Al Otro Lado (AOL) is a bi-national organization providing direct legal aid and representation to deportees, asylum seekers, detained migrants and separated families. AOL also employs impact litigation and policy advocacy to promote lasting and systemic changes that protect immigrants’ rights. Learn more at ​alotrolado.org​ and follow us on social media for updates: Al Otro Lado​ on Facebook, and @alotrolado_org on T​witter​ and ​Instagram​.

Lawyers for Good Government Foundation (L4GG) coordinates large scale pro bono programs and issue advocacy efforts to protect human rights and ensure equal justice under the law, and has a network of 125,000+ lawyers to assist in its efforts. L4GG runs Project Corazon, an immigrants rights initiative in Matamoros, Mexico providing legal assistance to asylum seekers who are forced to remain in refugee camps due to the administration’s MPP policy.

Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP has 27 offices worldwide, and focuses on serving the Technology, Energy & Infrastructure and Finance sectors globally.  Clients worldwide call on Orrick’s teams for forward-looking commercial advice on transactions, litigation and compliance matters. The firm has been recognized as one of the leaders in pro bono in the legal industry.

The Texas Civil Rights Project is boldly serving the movement for equality and justice in and out of the courts. We use our tools of litigation and legal advocacy to protect and advance the civil rights of everyone in Texas, and we partner with communities across the state to serve the rising movement for social justice. We undertake our work with a vision of a Texas in which all communities can thrive with dignity, justice and without fear.

 

CREEC Receives $20,000 Grant from the Denver Foundation

Grant will provide general operating support for CREEC’s efforts to address inequity in medical care for those in the Denver Metro Region and beyond.

The Denver Foundation’s Community Grants Program has awarded a $20,000 Basic Human Needs grant to CREEC. These funds provide general operating support to CREEC’s work addressing lack of access to basic medical care, including for those in immigration detention at the Aurora facility, and advocating for effective communication for Deaf people in medical settings.

The Denver Foundation LogoSince 2013, CREEC’s large-scale class action anti-discrimination lawsuits and individual cases, as well as education and outreach efforts, work to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation or gender identity. While some of CREEC’s cases are national or fall outside of the Denver Metro Area, CREEC’s focus on impact litigation and its successful results set broader legal precedent which will have positive implications for the local community. Similarly, some of CREEC’s national advocacy and education work positively impacts system-level policy, the ripple effect of which will be felt by those in our Denver Metro community.

Through its Immigration Detention Accountability Project (IDAP) and Accessibility Project (AP), CREEC often works at the intersection of disability rights, immigrant rights, and prisoner rights. CREEC’s work, such as challenging unconstitutional conditions of confinement for those in immigration detention, including in the areas of medical and mental health care; fighting for the protection and release of medically vulnerable immigrants due to COVID-19; and pursuing effective communication for incarcerated populations and Deaf people in medical settings; brings broad relief to those who face barriers to basic services and medical care, and seeks to increase health equity and access for those with disabilities on a systemic level.

Amy Robertson, Co-Executive Director, says, “this grant will help fortify CREEC’s work by providing essential general operating support. We are grateful to the Denver Foundation for seeing the value in CREEC’s work on behalf of behalf of immigrant, Deaf, and other local communities, and for investing in our organization.”

The Denver Foundation is a community foundation dedicated to improving life for people in the Metro Denver Region by inspiring people and mobilizing resources to strengthen the community. Through its Community Grants, it seeks to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, as well as economic disparities, and to support organizations that share its core values of racial equity and community leadership.

The Basic Human Needs grant focuses on serving those experiencing hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, and lack of access to basic medical care, in part through addressing barriers to accessing basic services, and supporting advocacy and policy reform on these issues.

This is the second grant awarded by The Denver Foundation to CREEC. In April 2020, the Foundation awarded CREEC a grant through its Lowe Fund, which provided general operating support to CREEC’s work in responding to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on those in immigration detention at the Aurora detention facility.

Welcome Kyle!

CREEC is excited to welcome our new paralegal Kyle Neumann! Kyle recently received his Paralegal Certificate and Master of Arts in Legal Studies from Texas State University in San Marcos. Kyle’s passion for promoting equality and challenging the everyday struggles experienced by Deaf and DeafBlind people has led him to pursue a career change from information technology to law and advocacy. Kyle is thrilled to work with CREEC to support the Deaf and DeafBlind communities.

Man holding dog in front of sunflowerKyle is a New England native and he was born Deaf. He is fluent in American Sign Language and has years of experience as a foster father and advocate for Deaf children in Vermont and Texas. After adopting his Deaf son, he and his son moved to Austin, Texas seeking a more robust Deaf community. While studying at Texas State University, Kyle held an internship with the City of Austin Law Department as a paralegal. There, Kyle was able to integrate his skills in technology and legal writing to prepare and draft legal documents, gather substantive evidence, and write clear and concise reports. Kyle is excited to work at CREEC where he can apply his legal training and longstanding information technology skills.

Kyle is joining the Accessibility Project team, providing support on cases involving Deaf prisoners, curb cuts, and access to effective communication for the Deaf community through CREEC’s Fast Advocacy for Communication (“FAC”) program as well as other efforts to advocate for the Deaf community. Kyle states, “CREEC’s mission of educating and advocating for the needs of underserved communities is in line with my passion of advocating for the Deaf and DeafBlind communities.”

In Kyle’s free time, he enjoys hiking, biking, and road trips.  He averages 30,000 miles a year on the road! Kyle looks forward to the adventures that Colorado holds. He adds to our CREEC puppy family with his 12-year-old dog, Xander Bander.

Civil Rights Advocates Honored for Health Equity Work

CREEC recognized as a Health Equity Champion by Center for Health ProgressCenter for Health Progress logo

On November 10, 2020, Center for Health Progress recognized groups and individuals whose contributions have either reduced inequities in health outcomes and health care or whose work has changed the systems and policies that keep some Coloradans from achieving their best health. This year Center for Health Progress selected Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) as one of two 2020 Health Equity Champion Award winners.

Since 1997, Center for Health Progress has held an annual event to bring together Colorado’s health leaders and honor those making important contributions to their community through Health Equity Champion awards.

This year’s event included awards two Health Equity Champion Award winners:

  • Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) Law
  • Department of Student Engagement Initiatives at Adams 12 Five Star Schools

“Colorado has so many talented, committed leaders doing incredible work across the state, and getting to recognize and thank a few of them is one of my favorite parts of the year,” said Joe Sammen, executive director of Center for Health Progress. “This year’s winners have improved the health and lives of tens of thousands of Coloradans—from changing harmful laws to providing direct support to children and families—and we’re so grateful for all they do.”

At this year’s luncheon, Center for Health Project premiered their documentary, The Essentials. Center for Health Project writes that The Essentials “lifts up the voices of our friends and neighbors from around the world who are facing great barriers to survival, but who fight on nonetheless. Their stories expose the true cost of a global pandemic shouldered by immigrant communities, while also revealing the immense resilience and resistance that will power the coming revolution.”

Elizabeth Jordan, Director of CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project accepted the award on CREEC’s behalf. “Health equity – the idea that everyone has the right to be as healthy as possible– is at its core a civil rights issue, especially when we fight for the rights of people who are marginalized and locked away from society at large to be healthy,” said Elizabeth. “It is a tremendous honor for us to be recognized for our fight for immigrants locked up by ICE by our friends at CHP.”

# # #

About Center for Health Progress

At Center for Health Progress, we believe health care is a right. So, we fight for laws and policies that make it possible for everyone to care for themselves and their families. We’re committed to championing health equity policies and practices, especially for those who have historically faced health inequities based on race/ethnicity, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, poverty, geography, citizenship status, or religion.

Announcing CREEC’s First Director of Operations

Image: Woman in glasses and green top smilingWe are excited to announce the appointment of Ana Diaz as CREEC’s first ever Director of Operations! In this new role, Ana will oversee and coordinate the administrative, financial, and human resources aspects of CREEC. We see the addition of this essential role as a natural progression for CREEC as our organization continues to grow and evolve and, based on her experience, Ana is the ideal person to initiate and craft this position.

Ana has been with CREEC since 2018, starting as Paralegal and then moving to Office Manager/Lead Paralegal in early 2020. During that time she has handled a number of administrative tasks including: playing a key role in the financial well-being of CREEC; managing personnel issues and drafting HR tools; wrangling various day-to-day administrative tasks; attending to state and federal compliance and tax issues, and more.  In her new role, Ana will also have full responsibility for firm-wide Zoom lunches, happy hours, and the annual Weird Shirt (summer) and Ugly Holiday Sweater (winter) competitions.

Prior to joining CREEC, Ana’s background included experience in management, administrative support, teaching, and consulting. Her experiences working and volunteering in nonprofit settings have given her a love for their mission-driven, collaborative environments along with an appreciation of the unique challenges facing nonprofits. Ana graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, a field of study that expanded her skills of systems-level analysis, strategic thinking, and designing environments for collaboration and community. Outside of work, Ana enjoys hiking, getting involved in her community, and lovingly curating a growing home library.

Ana states about her new role: “I am honored to take on this position in an organization I have come to love and admire. CREEC’s work is crucial in challenging discrimination in disability access, immigration, and carceral systems, and I am excited to support that work and CREEC’s powerhouse team.”

Co-Executive Directors Tim Fox and Amy Robertson are thrilled to have Ana in this new role.  “Ana has taken on increasing responsibility since she joined CREEC.  She is the perfect person to inaugurate the position of Operations Director,” said Tim.

Court Holds Case Challenging TDOC’S Failure to Accommodate Deaf Prisoners Can Proceed

 

In an important decision for the enforcement of disability rights in Tennessee, the Middle District of Tennessee held that Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), the state’s Protection & Advocacy (P&A) organization, has standing to file a lawsuit to protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. On November 12, 2020, Federal District Court Judge Aleta A. Trauger issued an opinion in the case of Trivette & Disability Rights Tennessee v. TDOC, recognizing DRT’s plaintiff status and affirming DRT’s ability to bring claims on behalf of its constituents in order to vindicate their rights. DRT, as Tennessee’s P&A, has been mandated by Congress to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.

low concrete prison building in TN behind a chainlink fence

Photo credit: TN.gov

DRT and Ernest Kevin Trivette filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Tennessee on March 30, 2020 based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The suit alleges that the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) is failing to provide D/deaf inmates with effective communication, including sign language interpreters and videophones, so that they can have equal access to TDOC’s programs and services. For example, Mr. Trivette was unable to get his GED because TDOC did not provide him with a sign language interpreter who would interpret the course, which was taught in English, into his primary language of American Sign Language (ASL). TDOC filed a Motion to Dismiss, claiming, in part, that DRT lacked standing to bring suit on behalf of D/deaf inmates in TDOC custody. DRT has long advocated for TDOC to provide effective communication to D/deaf and hard of hearing inmates as required by law.

In a decisive opinion, Judge Trauger rejected TDOC’s Motion to Dismiss and held that DRT can bring suit on behalf of D/deaf inmates in TDOC custody. Judge Trauger stated in her opinion:

Both DRT’s allegations and the statutory P&A structure support the conclusion that DRT is an organization that represents and is accountable to the state’s disabled population in a manner akin to membership . . . Advocating for greater support for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in TDOC facilities is plainly consistent with DRT’s mission, and, because DRT is challenging broad, policy-level failures by TDOC regarding its lack of language supports, DRT can pursue these claims without the direct participation of each individual affected.

“We welcome the Court’s decision which allows DRT to pursue claims on behalf of its other associational members and Mr. Trivette. It is the Protection & Advocacy system’s job to uphold these rights and this decision will further our work,” says Jack Derryberry, DRT’s Legal Director.

Judge Trauger also rejected TDOC’s Motion to Dismiss filed against Mr. Trivette, holding that his damages claim is not barred by the statute of limitations, and granted the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend the Complaint to add in two Deaf inmates currently in TDOC custody who are experiencing the same barriers to communication as Mr. Trivette did.

“We are pleased with this ruling and hope this case ultimately results in systemic changes to ensure effective communication for all D/deaf inmates in TDOC custody. It is critical that D/deaf inmates have communication access equal to that of hearing inmates,” said Martie Lafferty, Director of the Accessibility Project at Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center.

###

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT), formerly Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee, is the designated protection & advocacy agency for Tennessee. DRT provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. For 40 years, DRT has served over 50,000 people through direct services, education, and systemic advocacy.  https://www.disabilityrightstn.org/

 

Categories

Support CREEC

Donate!
                                   

Subscribe to Receive Updates

Enter your email address: