Zoom in on Court Decisions and Settlements

Supreme Court: Parents Don’t Need to Follow IDEA Procedures for Non-IDEA Issue

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a young girl who was denied the opportunity to bring her service animal to school. The student’s parents brought the case of Fry v Napoleon Community Schools under Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (the school receives federal funds).

The school argued that the matter should have been addressed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA has unique and very specific procedures which parents must follow and exhaust before they can bring a private lawsuit alleging that a school failed to adequately provide a “free appropriate public education (FAPE)” to a student with a disability who needs special education services.

The court confirmed that FAPE is solely within the orbit of the IDEA; parents must exhaust IDEA procedures to gain relief available under that law. Acknowledging that the IDEA, ADA, and Section 504 may at times overlap (“[t]he same conduct might violate all three statutes”), the court nevertheless underscored the distinctions between them: “… statutory differences mean that a complaint brought under Title II and Section 504 might instead seek relief for simple discrimination, irrespective of the IDEA’s FAPE obligation.”

The plaintiffs had not argued that the student needed her service dog in school in order to obtain an education, but rather to have “equal access” and gain more independence in the school environment. The court noted that the student could have pursued essentially the same sort of claim if a “public library or theater had refused admittance” to her service dog, and that an “adult visitor to the school could have leveled much the same charges if prevented from entering with his service dog.” Such suits “would have nothing to do with the provision of educational services,” and should not be limited by procedural requirements under IDEA, which can only address educational services.

Important as the IDEA is for children with disabilities, it is not the only federal statute protecting their interests.

~ Supreme Court

Arlington County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office Agrees to Settle ADA Claim, Improve Communications for Inmates Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced a settlement agreement under the ADA with the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), resolving allegations that the ACSO failed to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to effectively communicate with an individual who is deaf. The individual was incarcerated for 40 days, during which time he claimed he was not provided with interpreter services, telecommunications equipment, or other effective means of communicating.

The ACSO will pay $250,000 to the aggrieved individual, as well as take other steps to comply with the ADA, including:

  • appointing an ADA Coordinator who is familiar with the ADA’s requirements;
  • providing ADA training to staff;
  • adopting policies and procedures to ensure that auxiliary aids and services are provided promptly to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • procuring telecommunication devices, including videophones, usable by individuals who are deaf; and
  • providing hearing aid and cochlear implant processor batteries in the detention facility. 

DOJ and Baltimore Police Department: Consent Decree

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) have entered an agreement designed to improve community interaction and law enforcement activities. The agreement addresses a variety of issues, including police interaction with individuals with “behavioral health disabilities.”

Provisions of the agreement include:

  • a “gaps” assessment of the city’s behavioral health service system will be conducted;
  • a Crisis Intervention Team first-responder model of police-based crisis intervention will be implemented;
  • all officers will receive training on responding to individuals in crisis;
  • dispatchers will receive training on how to respond appropriately to calls that may involve individuals in crisis; and
  • data on suspected behavioral health disabilities or crisis status will be collected, analyzed, and reported.

DC Court Denies AARP Motion for Preliminary Injunction to Stop EEOC Rule on Wellness Programs

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a motion for a preliminary injunction in the case of AARP v U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). AARP sought a preliminary injunction to stop the application of the EEOC’s final rule on employer-sponsored wellness programs.

Employers are allowed to obtain employee health and disability-related information through wellness programs as long as participation is “voluntary.” The new EEOC rule considers a wellness program voluntary if an employee is not penalized more than 30% of the cost of self-only health coverage. AARP argues that such penalties are so significant (adding up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year for many workers) that they are coercive, and render associated wellness programs involuntary.

The court found a preliminary injunction inappropriate for a number of reasons, including the fact that individual plaintiffs’ claims are largely based on the financial harm they have experienced or will experience when they are penalized for refusing to provide medical information needed to participate in their employers’ wellness programs. The judge noted that financial harm is not “irreparable.” If plaintiffs should ultimately win their case, they will recover that money.

The judge found it unlikely, however, that AARP will eventually prevail on the merits in the case, noting that the EEOC’s regulation, which aligns with other laws (including the Affordable Care Act) is “not irrational.”