FEBRUARY 2017 | Washington Lawyers' Committee eNewsletter
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Dear Friend of the Washington Lawyers' Committee,

We are at a critical moment in the struggle for civil rights and against poverty. Private enforcement is increasingly crucial as federal agencies rapidly move away from a commitment to the implementation of civil rights laws. Coarse and divisive rhetoric combined with anti-immigrant and religiously biased executive actions has created a climate that encourages and tolerates discrimination. Hate crimes are on the rise and acts of violence, offensive graffiti and hate speech have become more common in schools, workplaces and on the streets.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee has always stood with victims of bias and we continue to do so. We recently filed suit on behalf of Melikt Mengiste who was unlawfully denied housing because she is Ethiopian. The Committee and Goodwin Procter LLP represent Ms. Mengiste and are proud to partner with her to affirm that discrimination is not only illegal, but wrong and contrary to the values of our nation.

The stories below highlight more of how the Committee and our partners are winning equal access and justice for all members of our community. Thank you for joining us as a defender of civil rights for all.


Jonathan Smith
Executive Director, Washington Lawyers' Committee

If you or someone you know has experienced any act of hate or bias because of their race, gender, national origin, religion or disability, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee is ready to help. Please contact us at 202-319-1000. Click here for more information.
Language Access is a Civil Right
DC's Language Access Mural
Equal access to government services regardless of language ability is critical to a healthy and safe community. Now, thanks to two courageous women, DC is healthier and safer. Maria Amaya Torres had her food stamps cut after DC’s Department of Human Services (DHS) refused her request for an interpreter. Minerva Nolasco was denied critical medical care when she was seven months pregnant after her health insurance benefits were canceled because she was not given important information in Spanish. We proudly worked with them to ensure that they and others can access DHS services without discrimination because of limited English ability. As a result of a settlement reached with DHS, DC residents who are limited or non-English proficient are now receiving necessary language access to important DHS services including medical care and food benefits. The settlement was a joint effort by the WLC, Hogan Lovells US LLP, and Bread for the City.
$780,000 Jury Verdict for Failure to Accommodate Employee’s Disability
Baltimore County Seal
Dianne Van Rossum had been working for Baltimore County for nearly 30 years when her department moved to a newly renovated office. Soon she began experiencing debilitating symptoms—strong headaches, loss of balance, severe burning in her eyes—that were traced to the “off-gassed” chemicals in her new office. The County initially allowed her to work from another floor in the building, but later withdrew this accommodation, even though they knew moving her back would make Ms. Van Rossum sick. After the County ignored her repeated requests for an accommodation that would permit her to continue to contribute as a County employee, Ms. Van Rossum was forced to retire.
 
It took the jury only 3 hours to come back with a $780,053 verdict for the pain, suffering, and discrimination Ms. Van Rossum experienced. WLC teamed with Kirkland & Ellis LLP to represent Ms. Van Rossum at trial.
Sweetgreen Website and Mobile App Made Accessible After Settlement
Tajuan Farmer
“People often forget about the blind and don’t understand how we navigate the internet with screen readers. This is why accessibility is always an afterthought and is not incorporated from the beginning. But accessibility is not just a luxury for us. It’s the difference between full participation in daily activities and being left behind. It is the difference between independence and being completely reliant on others. I am greatly encouraged by Sweetgreen’s decision to focus on accessibility.” – Plaintiff Tajuan Farmer (pictured above)
 
WLC’s action against Sweetgreen on behalf of Farmer and Mika Pyyhkala is part of our larger effort to make the digital world accessible to the blind.
Corporate Advisory Board Spotlight: 2016 Impacts on WLC’s Education Project & More
Amanda Voisard/For The Washington Post
WLC received significant corporate support during 2016, particularly for the Education Project. BDO Consulting and Savills Studley led the implementation of an exciting endeavor focusing on parents’ relationship with their children’s schools; Veris Consulting mentored a GeoPlunge Team and aided a Back-to-School cleanup; FTI Consulting supported a new school partnership and created a powerful exhibit demonstrating the physical harm of solitary confinement that contributed to a recent major settlement; and new sponsor Quadrangle Development Corporation is establishing a school partnership. We are grateful that the individuals leading these corporate entities share our values and support the mission of the WLC both financially and with boots on the ground, particularly as they make a difference with our school partnership program.
Fight Injustice & Inequality with WLC: Volunteer and Pro Bono Opportunities
More January and February News
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