DETROIT – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan settled a complaint regarding the failure of a local law office to provide free American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation services for a client who is deaf, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The settlement agreement resolves an investigation into the Julie B. Griffiths Law Office (now the Law Office of Griffiths & Willing), a family law practice located in Flint, Michigan. The complainant, who is deaf and whose primary language is ASL, alleged that they were repeatedly denied requests for an interpreter throughout the course of their representation. ASL is its own distinct language, with grammar and syntax that are unique from English. The settlement agreement requires the law practice to provide ASL interpreters and other auxiliary aids and services free of charge to ensure effective communication with their clients, as required by the ADA.
The ADA protects the rights of all individuals, regardless of disability, to fully and equally enjoy the benefits and services offered by places of public accommodation, including law offices. It requires places of public accommodation to provide the necessary auxiliary aids and services to ensure that communication with its customers is effective. Such aids and services can include ASL interpreters for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and must be paid for by the place of public accommodation.
“The legal system can be confusing and overwhelming. People often seek legal counsel because they are faced with a challenging situation that requires making difficult, and hopefully informed, decisions. Effective communication between attorneys and their clients is critical to that process, and it is one of the many important protections that the Americans with Disabilities Act provides to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said U.S. Attorney Dawn N. Ison. “Individuals who have disabilities are entitled to the same access to legal services as others at no additional cost, and my office will continue to vigorously enforce the civil rights of all citizens in our district.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the Law Office of Griffiths & Willing will adopt new ADA policies and practices, train its staff on those policies, report any future complaints from individuals who have disabilities to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and provide monetary compensation to the complainant. The Law Office of Griffiths & Willing will also write and circulate an article discussing the requirements of Title III of the ADA to raise awareness of this issue amongst local practitioners.
The investigation was led by AUSA Michael El-Zein of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, a member of the Civil Rights Unit. The full and fair enforcement of the ADA is a priority of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. The Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan was established in 2010 with the mission of prioritizing federal civil rights enforcement. For more information on the Office’s civil rights efforts, including a copy of the agreement, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-edmi/programs/civil-rights.
Individuals who believe they have been subjected to discrimination or experienced a civil rights violation can submit a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office by email at email@example.com or by phone at (313) 226-9151. Complaints can also be submitted to the Civil Rights Division through its complaint portal.