Court Allows Ohio Segregation Lawsuit to Proceed

gavel with scales of justice and law books

by Andy Jones
March 29, 2017

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio rejected on March 21[PDF] the state of Ohio's motion to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses it of segregating people with disabilities in its residential and employment services.

The state currently has about 5,800 people in its network of public and private intermediate care facilities, which each hold eight or more individuals. About 2,500 of these individuals are on a waiting list to move into more integrated, community-based housing options. The average wait time for people on this list is 13 years. 

Forty thousand more people are on a waiting to list for community-based living services, an estimated 22,000 who are at-risk of institutionalization.

Disability Rights Ohio, Sidley Austin and the Center for Public Representation filed a class-action lawsuit in March 2016, alleging that it systematically violates the ADA, which requires states to provide services so people can live in the most integrated settings according to their needs.

The complaint further takes aim at the state’s allocations of its job-related services for people with disabilities, noting that almost all of it is directed toward so-called sheltered workshops, which have long been criticized as outdated and as a barrier to competitive employment. Claims were also brought under the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Social Security Act.

Among its arguments in seeking to dismiss the case, the state argued that the advocates could only bring the case on behalf of individuals already placed in institutional settings, as opposed to those at-risk of such placements. The Court rejected this argument.

The state also argued that that the claims were duplicative of those previously settled under a consent decree between the advocates and the state in 2007. That decree, however, expired in 2009, and the Court nonetheless noted that the advocates provided evidence of continuing unlawful conduct and that the decree did not address the employment-related concerns in the complaint.

"The court's decision is an important recognition of the significant legal rights at stake here for thousands of individuals with developmental disabilities in Ohio," said Michael Kirkman, executive director of Disability Rights Ohio, in a news release. "Significantly, the Court recognizes that the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act are broad enough to protect individuals who are on wait lists, and to address the isolation that they experience in their daily lives."

Disability Rights Washington and Disability Rights Ohio are the designated protection and advocacy agency in Washington and Ohio, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.