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Deaf Plaintiffs Settle Effective Communication Case Against D.C. Housing Authority; Secure Monetary Relief of $350,000

On February 28, 2015, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a settlement agreement requiring the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) to revamp its policy for providing American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and other aids to ensure that people with hearing impairments can secure equal access to DCHA programs, like the Housing Choice Voucher and public housing. The agreement also requires DCHA to pay $350,000 in monetary relief.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in May 2013 by Relman, Dane & Colfax and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia on behalf of two individuals, Jacqueline Young and Latheda Wilson, and Deaf-REACH, a non-profit organization that serves clients with hearing disabilities. The litigation challenged DCHA’s failure to provide ASL interpreters necessary for effective communication and equal access to people with hearing impairments. For years, Plaintiffs Young and Wilson, and the clients of Deaf-REACH were denied interpreters and access to basic services, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act.

In addition to training and monitoring, key provisions of the new policy will require that DCHA notify clients with hearing impairments that they are entitled to ASL interpreters and other services and conduct individualized assessments to determine what services each client needs. DCHA must also install video remote interpreting services to provide immediate access to sign language interpretation services in a variety of situations including its walk-in hours. Finally, DCHA will track requests for interpretation services to confirm compliance with the new policy and establish grievance procedures that allow complaints to be directed to informal resolution or a formal adjudication process, as appropriate.

The litigation team was led by Megan Cacace, Michael Allen and Ryan Downer of Relman, Dane & Colfax and Chinh Le, Julie Becker, and Rachel Rintelmann of Legal Aid. The case is Jacqueline Young, et al. v. District of Columbia Housing Authority, Civil Action No. 1:13-cv-00652-CKK. An earlier published decision denying DCHA’s motion to dismiss contains helpful analysis of voluntary cessation, mootness, and standing issues, and can be found at Young v. District of Columbia Housing Authority, 31 F. Supp. 3d 90 (D.D.C. 2014).

Noteworthy Pleadings