Relman Colfax is pleased to announce the settlement of race and disability discrimination claims brought by 54 property owners and residents of Sapelo Island, Georgia and two community organizations against the State of Georgia and other state officials and entities. Plaintiffs are the descendants of Gullah-Geechee slaves whose families have lived on Sapelo Island for centuries who alleged—in a complaint filed in federal court in 2015—that the State Defendants discriminated against them on the basis of race by providing inequitable services on Sapelo Island.

The settlement resolves Plaintiffs’ claims that the State Defendants discriminated against them in the provision of funding for programs and activities, and engaged in conduct that threatened the preservation of Sapelo Island’s culture and history in favor of white developers. Plaintiffs also alleged that the State-run ferry, which is the sole means of public access to Sapelo Island, was inaccessible to people with disabilities and run on a schedule that made it practically impossible to live on the Island while working or in school. Plaintiffs’ claims against McIntosh County, Georgia, remain pending.   

The settlement provides broad relief to Plaintiffs. The agreement requires the State Defendants to convene annual meetings between the DNR Commissioner and residents and property owners to discuss matters related to Sapelo Island’s history and culture, adhere to a process for receiving proposed concept plans for the use of certain lands on Sapelo Island, and implement improvements to the water system on Sapelo Island, among other requirements.

In addition, the State Defendants are required to make substantial remediations to the ferry, dock, and boarding facilities to dismantle accessibility barriers that have made it difficult for people with disabilities to travel to and from Sapelo Island. These improvements include a state-of-the-art assistive listening system for use on the ferry, installation of ADA-compliant parking at the dock areas, retrofits on the ferry to provide greater access to people who use wheel chairs, expansive construction of the waiting facilities and restrooms to address non-compliant features, signage at the docks to inform people of the process for requesting ADA accommodations and complaint procedures, and a complete demolition of the existing dock facilities to be rebuilt in accordance with accessibility standards. The monetary value of these improvements are estimated to be several million dollars, and State Defendants made a payment of $750,000 to settle Plaintiffs’ monetary claims.

The Relman Colfax team includes Reed Colfax, Jia Cobb, Angela Groves, Rebecca Livengood, Amalia Perez, Charlotte Saltzman, Callan Showers, and Brianna Terrell. Robert Jackson serves as co-counsel.

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