Trump’s Justice Department drops its support for an Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit

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Photo by Steve Snodgrass

The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) sudden about-face in a case involving the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is adding to concerns about the Trump administration’s commitment to protecting civil rights, according to an article published in the Daily Beast.

In 2013, Emily Hall filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) claiming her employer, the Richmond [Virginia] City Sheriff’s Department, had violated the ADA by not making reasonable accommodations to allow her to continue to work after she developed heart problems. After negotiations between the EEOC and the Sheriff’s department failed, the case was referred to the DOJ Civil Rights Division, which determined Hall’s rights had been violated. In March 2016, the DOJ sued the sheriff’s office to force it to comply with the ADA.

The DOJ lost in federal district court, but appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. On July 28, the DOJ reversed its position and asked the Fourth Circuit to dismiss its appeal. The court did so.

“It’s unfortunate and worrisome that the Civil Rights Division, having come this far, chose to suddenly withdraw its appeal from this terribly reasoned decision,” said Sasha Samberg-Champion, who served in the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, told the Daily Beast. “With the division currently staking out retrograde positions on LGBT issues, racial diversity in education, and elsewhere, disability rights advocates are watching closely to see whether the division will continue to forcefully protect the rights of people with disabilities such as Ms. Hall. The decision not to pursue her case further is grounds for concern.”

Many disability rights advocates were already concerned about the Trump administration, since “Trump companies have faced numerous lawsuits alleging they didn’t accommodate people with disabilities,” as the Daily Beast notes.

The ADA was one of the signature accomplishments of Iowa’s Tom Harkin during his long career in both the U.S. House of Representative and Senate. Harkin began working on disability rights issues when he was representing western Iowa in the House, and continued to do so during his 30 years in the Senate. In 1989, Sen. Harkin introduced the ADA, which became law in 1991.

“The ADA was a critical civil rights act that protects the rights of people with disabilities by allowing them to live in the communities of their choice, and to work as other Americans are able to work,” Jane Hudson, executive director of Disability Rights Iowa, told Little Village.

“It’s been more than 25 years since it was passed, and there are still a lot of enforcement issues,” Hudson said. “We rely on the Department of Justice to step up to the plate to make sure it’s enforced.”

“The Obama administration was strong when came to civil rights enforcement generally, and especially with respect to the ADA.”

Hudson has not yet had an opportunity to review the Hall case, but will be carefully reviewing the DOJ’s stance.

“It’s too soon to know what the Trump administration is doing with respect to the ADA, so this case is really of concern,” she said.

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