Under a new strategy, the U.S. Department of Labor requested assistance from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) when Labor’s Wage and Hour investigators found violations of the minimum wage requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act in sheltered employment programs for persons with disabilities operated with funding by Providence, Rhode Island. DOJ, in turn, conducted a civil rights investigation. A suit was filed by DOJ in the federal district court of Rhode Island against the State of Rhode Island and City of Providence alleging violations of the disability-based nondiscrimination provisions of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA) as interpreted in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999). See United States v. Rhode Island, Case No. CA13-442. In essence, DOJ found persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities were offered educational, training, and employment programs and services in segregated settings with fewer opportunities and lesser wages and working conditions than those offered to persons without disabilities.

On June 13, 2013, an Interim Agreement among the parties was filed with the court. This agreement provides, in part, the following:

On March 13, 2012, the United States communicated its findings, in person, to the State pertaining to the services provided at the sheltered workshop provider Training Thru Placement (“TTP”) and the Harold A. Birch Vocational Program at Mount Pleasant High School (Birch) of the Providence Public School Department (PPSD), as part of the State and PPSD’s day activity services system, concluding the State fails to administer programs and services to individuals with (disabilities) at TTP in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs and PPSD places Birch students at risk of unnecessary segregation in sheltered workshop and day program settings, including TTP, in violation of the ADA and Olmstead.

In the interim agreement, the parties agree that the broad range of employment-related programs and services offered to persons with disabilities (such as job referrals, job carving, job coaching, job training, career planning, adaptive behavior and skills training, and the like):

. . . shall be individualized and flexible, and shall be available as needed and desired, but shall not be mandated as a condition or working or receiving services in an integrated employment setting.

And, the State and City agreed to “establish and implement a policy that includes the presumption that all individuals covered by this Interim Agreement are capable of working in integrated employment settings.” (italics added). The agreement also covers communications issues that may arise with certain persons with disabilities, and it provides:

Translation and interpretation services, including sign language interpretation, shall be accessible and available to all individuals (with disabilities) and their families who require such services during all employment planning meetings and during the entire career planning process.

The Interim Agreement sets forth a sweeping set of corrective actions. As described by DOJ, “This first-of-its-kind agreement addresses the rights of people with disabilities to receive state- and city-funded employment and daytime services in the broader community, rather than in segregated sheltered workshops and facility-based day programs exclusively with other people with disabilities.”

To read the agreement in its entirety, and to view the complaint, go to http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2013/June/13-crt-674.html.

 About the author

Seena Foster, award-winning civil rights author and Partner of the discrimination consulting firm, Title VI Consulting, LLP in Alexandria, Virginia, provides expertise and guidance in the areas of compliance and civil rights investigations to state and local governments, colleges and universities, private companies, and non-profit organizations.  To that end, she offers one hour Webinars, full-day and half-day in-person training sessions, assistance developing procedures, and mediation services addressing a variety of types of discrimination such as racial discrimination, sex discrimination, disability discrimination, age discrimination, and religious discrimination.  The federal law on discrimination is complex and affects our workplaces as well as the delivery of our federally funded programs and activities.  Her book, Civil Rights Investigations Under the Workforce Investment Act and Other Title VI Related Laws:  From Intake to Final Determination, has been described as an “eye-opening” reading experience and a “stand-alone” training resource.   Ms. Foster’s resources and materials are designed to support the work of civil rights and discrimination professionals in the public and private sectors.  You may contact her through www.titleviconsulting.com.