The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently filed a statement of interest in a pending federal court case on disability discrimination. The DOJ files a brief like this when the government has an interest in clarifying the law at issue, or how the law is applied.
Here the parent of a minor child with autism alleges that the school district and county sheriff’s office are responsible for mistreatment and discrimination under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiff alleged that three school resource officers (SROs) aggressively handcuffed the student while the they were calmly sitting with the school psychiatrist, and then left the student in a locked police car for several hours.
The school district filed a motion to dismiss arguing that the SROs were employees of the county sheriff’s office, not the district, and so the SROs acts (or omissions) could not be attributed to the district. In its statement of interest in opposition to the district’s motion, the DOJ stated that the ADA “draws no distinction between a program provided directly by the public entity or a program provided through a contractual or other arrangement.” For that reason, “a public entity maintains its legal duty and will remain liable for harm in its services, programs, and activities, regardless of how it opts to structure or staff those services.”
The DOJ’s position is an important reminder for schools (and other entities) that the obligation to comply with the ADA cannot be contracted away. While this case focuses on the actions of SROs, the same principles and expectations regarding ADA compliance can be expected to apply for outsourced construction projects, web design and more.