U.S. Attorney Announces Establishment of Civil Rights Enforcement Unit
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Today, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger announced the establishment of a new Civil Rights Enforcement Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA).
“I am proud to announce that EDVA is the first U.S. Attorney’s Office nationwide to have multiple Assistant U.S. Attorneys 100 percent dedicated to enforcing the rights of persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and another Assistant U.S. Attorney dedicated full-time to enforcing the rights of servicemembers and veterans under statutes like the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act,” said Terwilliger.
“After taking office as U.S. Attorney in May 2018, I spent time traveling the District to meet organizations with which we have partnered to enforce disability rights,” said Terwilliger. “I discovered two things: One, under AUSA Steve Gordon’s leadership, this office has a nationally recognized ADA enforcement practice; and two, the needs of citizens within the Eastern District’s disability community far outpaced our office’s available resources. As a lifelong dyslexic, this work is near and dear to me and I know that were it not for the ADA, I would not be standing here, in this position, today. I could not be prouder to have the Civil Rights Enforcement Unit now become part of the revered U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.”
The new unit institutionalizes and expands EDVA’s existing Civil Rights Enforcement Program, which has already had great success in enforcing the rights of persons with disabilities. The unit will combine case-based advocacy with community outreach and training, and will seek to expand our work into assisting veterans with disabilities to ensure that those who fought for our country are not discriminated against based upon a disability.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 1 in 4 (23.6 percent) adults in Virginia have disabilities. These men and women continue to face innumerable barriers to their full inclusion into all aspects of society. Examples of these barriers include:
- Attitudinal barriers, including the mindset that accommodations, such as those provided for students with learning disabilities, are some kind of special treatment, an unfair crutch, rather than simply providing equal access to people with disabilities;
- Communication barriers, such as failure to provide a sign language interpreter for high stakes interactions with medical personnel at a hospital; and
- Architectural barriers, such as missing ramps at polling places that prevent individuals, including those brave women and men who fought in our military to secure the right to vote for all, from engaging in the fundamental right to vote.
The establishment of EDVA’s Civil Rights Unit honors the 30th anniversary of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.
Highlights of EDVA’s ADA Enforcement Program
Ensuring Equal Access to Healthcare. EDVA has developed a leading practice under the Justice Department’s Barrier Free Healthcare Initiative, entering into multiple comprehensive settlement agreements with Lincare, Inc., Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, Fairfax Nursing Center, and Commonwealth Health and Rehabilitation Center, healthcare providers who failed to provide sign language interpreter services to patients and companions who are deaf, including for high-stakes communications regarding critical medical care.
Ensuring Equal Access to Polling Places. In connection with the Justice Department’s ADA Voting Initiative, EDVA entered into comprehensive settlement agreements with Fauquier County and the City of Chesapeake to ensure that people with mobility disabilities can physically access polling locations so as to not be denied their fundamental right to vote.
Ensuring Physical Access to Places of Public Accommodation. EDVA has successfully resolved multiple matters to ensure physical access to public places to those with mobility disabilities. One significant example is a settlement with the operator of the Crystal City Shops and Underground relating to a pedestrian concourse that is 11 blocks long and three blocks wide to ensure physical accessibility for people with disabilities.
Highlights of EDVA’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative
Protecting Our Servicemembers from Unlawful Evictions and Damages Actions. EDVA obtained the largest ever settlement against a property management company for violating the SCRA.
Protecting Our Veterans’ Employment and Reemployment Rights: EDVA has investigated and resolved a matter in favor of an Army Reserve soldier whose civilian employment with Lawn Doctor of Stafford-Culpeper was terminated after the soldier’s absence due to active duty military service. On behalf of the soldier, our office recovered the soldier’s lost income, as well as liquidated damages.
Outreach and Partnerships
In addition to enforcement actions, EDVA will continue to prioritize community outreach and training, which has amplified the impact of our enforcement work by cultivating strong working relationships with leaders from the community and covered entities, educating people and communities about their rights, deterring violations, and informing our enforcement efforts.
To date, EDVA has held more than 60 community outreach and engagement events in support of our ADA efforts, including an annual round table with stakeholders in the Disability Rights Community; a community meeting regarding ADA issues arising as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; presentations to premiere national and regional ADA conferences; and trainings for significant covered entities, such as the Virginia Association of Community Service Boards, the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia, and the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Finally, we are grateful for the partnership and support of disability rights-focused organizations like the National Association for the Deaf, Arc of Loudon, disAbility Resource Center of the Rappahannock, Arc of Northern Virginia, Northern Virginia Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, and the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center.
2020 marks the ADA’s 30th anniversary. The Justice Department continues to advance the nation's goal of equal opportunity, integration, full participation, inclusion, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. Through its enforcement and technical assistance tools, the Justice Department strives to eliminate unlawful discrimination against individuals with disabilities.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.