On March 27, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a Motion to Intervene in the case of Lane v. Kitzhaber, 12-CV-00138, (D. OR 2012). The case is a pending class action lawsuit against the state of Oregon, in which Plaintiffs claim the state has violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which require individuals with disabilities not receive services in segregated settings. The DOJ, in its complaint "alleges that the State of Oregon unnecessarily segregates individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in sheltered workshops...by failing to provide or make available supported employment services that would allow for their integration into the community." The DOJ issued a letter of findings in June 2012 following an investigation into the state's system of providing employment and vocational services to people with I/DD. The letter notified the state the DOJ found the state was out of compliance with the ADA.
The ADA, as interpreted by the Olmstead case, requires people be served "in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities." Courts have held previously this applies to living situations. The current case in Oregon would extend that interpretation to apply to employment settings as well, if the court agrees with the position the DOJ takes in its complaint. The DOJ gives an example of a sheltered workshop in Oregon which it says segregates people by the severity of their disabilities, with the "most severely disabled working together", and no opportunity for people with disabilities to interact with individuals without disabilities. The DOJ also notes workers on a comprehensive waiver (which permits sub-minimum wages to be paid) earn on average $3.35/hr, with a minimum for some workers of 44 cents.
The complaint goes on to say, "Oregon's system has so ingrained the expectation that all individuals with I/DD will work in such sheltered workshops, that students from local high schools receive scholarships/stipends to participate in the workshop provider's programs while still in school. Some other high school's 'life skills' programs operate sheltered workshops in school or have students with I/DD perform workshop tasks." The DOJ argues the state has discriminated against individuals with I/DD by "planning, administering, and funding its employment service system in a manner that relies heavily upon segregated sheltered workshops" and the state has "failed to provide persons with I/DD with meaningful access to adequate and effective supported employment services that would allow them to work in integrated employment settings."
Director of the Oregon Department of Human Services Erinn Kelley-Siel expressed disappointment in the action by the DOJ, writing, "To the best of our knowledge, no other state has been sued on the grounds that sheltered workshops themselves are violations of the ADA. During the past year, Oregon has made significant and time-intensive efforts to settle this matter through numerous meetings and communications with [the Justice Department], and Oregon continues to believe that these issues should be resolved through negotiation and not in court." She went on to describe work to ensure a "balanced and reasonable implementation of employment policies" for people with I/DD "while respecting consumer and family choice".
For more information, including other court documents in this case, click here.