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DOJ Argues Sheltered Workshops May Violate ADA

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DOJ Argues Sheltered Workshops May Violate ADA

May 17, 2012

Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division filed a letter of interest in support of the plaintiffs in the Oregon case Lane v. Kitzhaber, which alleges the state is in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring that “a public entity shall administer services, programs and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.”

The plaintiffs contend that they have been unnecessarily segregated in sheltered workshops, which do not allow them to interact with workers without disabilities or learn skills necessary to work in a competitive environment.

The DOJ cites prior court cases, including Olmstead v. L.C., to support its argument that the integration required by the ADA applies to all segregated services, programs and activities, not just to residential programs. It then makes the point that the state has shown, through the implementation or modification of other employment programs, the ability to provide these services to individuals with disabilities in integrated community settings and argues that denying these plaintiffs the ability to transition into these less restrictive settings is a violation of the ADA.

The DOJ further argues that courts are required to defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations unless that interpretation is clearly wrong. This means that the defendant in this case (here, the state of Oregon) must successfully argue to the court that the DOJ’s interpretation of the integration regulations is clearly wrong in order to prevail.