U.S. Attorney’s Office Reaches Agreement With Nationwide Daycare Provider To Ensure Equal Rights For Children With Disabilities
NEWARK, N.J. – The United States has entered into an agreement with a national daycare provider to resolve an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit filed by the government, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced today.
The government alleged that Spring Education Inc. (SEI), formerly known as Nobel Learning Communities Inc., discriminated against a 3-year-old girl (M.M.) and her parents in violation of the ADA by refusing to make reasonable modifications to its toileting policy and then expelling the child on the basis of her disability. The girl had toileting delays resulting from her disability.
“Equal opportunity is the core American value that is protected by the ADA and advanced by today’s agreement,” U.S. Attorney Carpenito said. “With this agreement, we ensure that children with disabilities attending SEI’s daycare facilities in New Jersey and across the United States receive the protection to which they are entitled under the law. We are proud to continue our vigorous enforcement of the ADA in New Jersey and will continue to root out discrimination to the fullest extent of the law.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office launched an investigation after receiving a complaint from the parents of M.M. – who was diagnosed with Down syndrome – that SEI’s facility in Moorestown, New Jersey, set an arbitrary deadline for the child to become toilet-trained. According to the complaint, SEI then expelled M.M., with only five days’ notice, when she failed to meet that deadline, despite M.M.’s parents providing medical documentation explaining that toileting delays are common in children with Down syndrome. To justify expelling M.M., SEI pointed to its “corporate policy” on toileting, which SEI said required 3-year-olds in certain classrooms to be fully toilet trained.
After conducting the investigation, the United States filed a complaint in federal district court against SEI, alleging that the company violated the ADA by discriminating against both M.M. and her parents when it refused to modify its standard toileting policy and then expelling the child on the basis of her disability.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice brought an action against SEI in Pennsylvania (when it was still operating as Nobel Learning Communities), alleging that the company had a pattern or practice of discriminating against children with disabilities. The parties settled that lawsuit in 2011.
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in child care centers, which must make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to provide equal access to a child with a disability, unless a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods and services. Reasonable modifications in a child care setting can include personal services, such as diapering or toileting assistance for children who need it due to a disability, regardless of age, when such personal services are provided to other children.
Under the terms of the agreement, SEI is required to adopt a policy consistent with the ADA that requires it to provide reasonable modifications for children with disabilities that impact their ability to be toilet-trained. That policy change will protect children attending SEI’s seven facilities in New Jersey and more than 150 schools in 16 other states and Washington, D.C. SEI must also comply with rigorous reporting requirements, inform current and prospective families about the policy change, and train current and future employees on the policy. SEI must also pay a civil penalty of $30,000 to the United States and $18,000 as damages to M.M.
Individuals who believe they may have been victims of discrimination may file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office at: Civil Rights Enforcement or call the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Complaint Hotline at (855) 281-3339.
Additional information about the ADA can be found at ADA.gov or by calling the Department of Justice’s toll-free information line at 800-514-0301 and 800-514-0383.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jordan M. Anger, Ben Kuruvilla, and David V. Simunovich of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Civil Division; Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor Williamson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Civil Rights Unit; and Trial Attorney Charlotte Lanvers of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section.