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Press Release

Pennsylvania Courts Agree To Pay $100,000.00 In Damages To Compensate Victims And Redress Americans With Disabilities Act (Ada) Discrimination

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania

SCRANTON- The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania (UJS Courts) has agreed to pay $100,000.00 to resolve a federal lawsuit bought by the United States under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131-12134 (ADA).  The United States brought this action against the UJS, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and the Blair, Jefferson, Lackawanna, and Northumberland County Courts of Common Pleas to vindicate the rights of individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) who have been subjected to discriminatory written and unwritten policies and practices in at least eleven UJS Courts, restricting their ability to take medication administered by their health care providers to treat their disability.

“The battle against the opioid epidemic requires not only the vigorous prosecution of those who traffic in and profit from drugs like heroin and fentanyl, but also requires ensuring individuals with opioid use disorder can take their medically prescribed treatment,” said U.S. Attorney Gerard M. Karam of the Middle District of Pennsylvania. “This agreement with the Commonwealth will help ensure that individuals participating in Pennsylvania’s courts who have opioid use disorder will be allowed to follow their providers’ course of treatment, which may include medication that dramatically reduces opioid overdose deaths.  This office will enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect all individuals with disabilities, and this includes our citizens in recovery from addiction.”

Under the settlement agreement, the UJS Courts will compensate six victims of the courts’ discriminatory policies: two from Jefferson County Court, two from Blair County Court, one from Northumberland County Drug Court, and one from Lackawanna County Court.  The courts made each individual choose between taking their prescribed medication or face incarceration or termination from the court’s respective treatment program.  By forgoing their medication, the individuals faced painful withdrawal symptoms and the risk of relapse, overdose, and death. 

Additionally, under the agreement, the UJS Courts will provide training to all Commonwealth court criminal judges and treatment court professionals on the ADA and OUD medication.  Three of the named county courts will adopt an anti-discrimination policy related to OUD medication that is attached as an exhibit to the agreement.  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will post the policy on their webpage and encourage all other county courts to adopt the same policy.  And, finally, all of the defendants will report to the United States on their efforts to comply with the agreement, including detailing any complaints regarding access to OUD medication submitted to any UJS Courts during the agreement’s two-year term.

“People with opioid use disorder caught up in the criminal justice system should be supported in seeking out treatments that can help them attain recovery,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Under this agreement, the UJS courts that categorically restricted the use of opioid treatment medication are required to allow people with opioid use disorder to take the proven medications that put them on a path toward recovery and rehabilitation. These courts are also required to implement new policies and training procedures to prevent disability discrimination in the future. We are pleased to reach this significant resolution, and we will continue to enforce federal civil rights laws like the ADA to ensure people with disabilities are protected from discrimination.”

“My office is dedicated to fighting the opioid epidemic with every tool that we have,” said U.S. Attorney Romero. “That includes enforcing the ADA to remove discriminatory barriers to treatment for OUD. All too often, people taking medication to treat their OUD are subjected to discrimination based on unfounded stigma associated with these medications. It is a violation of the ADA to deny someone access to programs and services simply because they are taking medication their doctors have prescribed to get and keep their OUD in remission. My office will hold entities that violate the ADA’s anti-discrimination protections accountable.”

The partnership of the Middle and Eastern Districts of Pennsylvania in conjunction with the Justice Department demonstrates our ongoing efforts to combat discrimination against individuals with OUD.  The Justice Department previously issued public guidance and filed statements of interest on the ADA’s protections for those with OUD.  It has entered into multiple settlements with jails and prisons to increase access to OUD medication, including recent agreements in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; Eastern Kentucky; and Massachusetts.  It has undertaken enforcement efforts to combat discrimination against individuals with OUD in court supervision programs in Massachusetts.  It has also entered numerous settlements to address discriminatory barriers to treatment for OUD outside of the criminal justice context, including barriers related to employment, professional licensing, social services, and healthcare.

Attorneys Kevin Kijewski, David Knight, and Adam Lewis of the Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section handled this matter in collaboration with Middle District of Pennsylvania Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Butler, Civil Rights Coordinator, and Eastern District of Pennsylvania Assistant United States Attorney Lauren DeBruicker, Deputy Civil Chief for Civil Rights.

For more information about the Justice Department’s work to address discrimination against individuals with opioid use disorder, please visit: https://www.ada.gov/topics/opioid-use-disorder/.  For more information on the ADA, please call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit www.ada.gov.  Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at civilrights.justice.gov/report  Anyone in the Middle District of Pennsylvania may also report civil rights violations to the Civil Rights Coordinator of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania by calling 717-614-4911 or emailing usapam.civil.rights@usdoj.gov. 

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Updated February 5, 2024