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DOJ announces landmark agreement on segregated work for persons with disabilities

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In an order issued on Aug. 12, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon found that the State of Oregon has fulfilled the terms of a settlement agreement with the Justice Department and people with disabilities in a landmark case challenging the state’s provision of employment services for people with disabilities in segregated settings. The case, Lane v. Brown/United States v. Oregon, was dismissed as a result.

The settlement agreement, in effect since 2015, resolved the first lawsuit in the nation to challenge a state’s reliance on segregated employment settings for individuals with disabilities, including sheltered workshops, as a violation of the integration mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sheltered workshops are segregated facilities that exclusively or primarily serve individuals with disabilities, in which people with disabilities have little or no contact with non-disabled persons besides paid staff. People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in sheltered workshops often earn wages well below minimum wage, sometimes pennies per hour. By contrast, supported employment services assist people with I/DD to prepare for, obtain and succeed in integrated workplaces at competitive wages.

“This ruling demonstrates once again that people with significant disabilities are fully capable of working in the community alongside their nondisabled peers with appropriate services and supports,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are pleased that Oregon has successfully implemented the reforms called for by our settlement agreement and remain committed to ensuring that people with disabilities across the country have every opportunity to access the job market. Simply put, people with disabilities must have the right to receive employment services in the community, pursue jobs consistent with their talents and preferences, earn fair wages, achieve social and economic independence and contribute to our nation’s economy.”

The lawsuit was filed as a class action in January 2012 by individuals with I/DD who were receiving services in Oregon sheltered workshops, but instead preferred to work in jobs in the community for a competitive wage. In March 2013, the Justice Department intervened in the lawsuit. The department claimed that Oregon was unnecessarily segregating adults with I/DD in sheltered workshops and placing Oregon youth with I/DD at serious risk of segregation in sheltered workshops in violation of Title II of the ADA.

In Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court ruled that the ADA prohibits unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities, who have a right to live and receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate. The Lane case was the first lawsuit to address how the ADA’s integration mandate applied to state employment services.

The agreement required Oregon to provide supported employment services and related employment services so that 1,115 sheltered workshop workers would newly receive jobs in the community at competitive wages over the agreement’s term. The agreement also required at least 7,000 people — including more than 4,900 youth exiting school — to receive supported employment services aimed at enabling them to secure and maintain integrated, competitive employment opportunities. At least half of the youth served received individualized employment plans from Oregon’s vocational rehabilitation agency, identifying the services and supports necessary to achieve competitive employment. The Independent Reviewer who monitored Oregon’s compliance with the agreement found that, according to state data, Oregon met or exceeded these requirements.

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