UPDATED: RI ACLU Files Complaint Against RI DLT for Lack of Language Accommodations
Friday, July 07, 2017
ACLU of RI and RI Legal Services filed a formal complaint against the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (RIDLT) for failing to provide non-English speaking residents with meaningful access to the agency’s unemployment insurance (UI) services.
“As part of an agreement reached in 2013 with the Department of Labor, RIDLT was required to create and implement a plan to ensure that individuals with limited proficiency in English can effectively participate in the State’s UI program. They have failed to do so, and we are hopeful that USDOL will step in again and finally ensure the agency’s compliance with this important federal civil rights law,” said Steven Brown, ACLU of RI executive Director.
The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL).
The complaint, filed on behalf of Gracianne Noel, a Haitian Creole speaker, says that RIDLT is in violation of a federal law known as Title VI, which requires agencies receiving federal funding to provide meaningful access to programs and services for individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP).
According to the complaint, Noel was repeatedly deprived of critical UI benefits to which she was legally entitled as a result of RIDLT’s failure to offer access to information in her native language.
In order to qualify for and receive UI benefits, individuals must call in weekly via the RIDLT TeleServe system to report job search activities and earnings.
Currently, the TeleServe program is available in English, with Spanish and Portuguese available only after a lengthy message.
The complaint says that, for LEP individuals whose primary language is other than these, the agency: “expects Ms. Noel and other similarly situated individuals to contact the general TeleServe number and then blindly follow a seven-step labyrinth of prompts in English in order to finally reach a language line. However, before ultimately accessing an interpreter on the language line, the caller must first communicate his or her need for assistance to an RIDLT staff person who may prove unable to understand the caller and his of her request for assistance.”
Response from DLT
“We are aware that a complaint has been filed, but will wait to issue a more formal response once we receive notice of whether the USDOL Civil Rights Center has accepted the complaint. That said, we are committed to following the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to the full letter and spirit of the law. The Department believes in the importance of providing meaningful access to claimants with limited English proficiency and is committed to doing so," said Michael Healey, Chief Public Affairs Officer, Dept. of Labor and Training.
"About 15 percent of our UI claimants access our services in Spanish and Portuguese. In Ms. Noel’s case, because she had been using a third party who was proficient in English to help her certify her claims, DLT wasn’t aware that she needed language access services in Haitian Creole until there was a problem. At that time, DLT took action to help Ms. Noel certify her weekly claim to access her UI benefits and further implemented a system to help other limited English proficient claimants (not speaking Spanish or Portuguese) utilize the same process to access their benefits,” added Healey.
Asking for Changes
The ACLU complaint asks USDOL to fix the ongoing problems in a number of ways, including requiring RIDLT to provide an alternative to TeleServe for languages not available with that system; having language assistance information be a part of all notices sent out to UI applicants; and establishing a process that identifies applicants’ language needs immediately at application.
Related Slideshow: The Power List - Judiciary and Lawyers, 2016
John Tarantino — Big cases. Big reach. And big influence.
Tarantino has headed big cases like the defense of the state’s pension reforms and fought against Rhode Island representing the paint industry in the protracted lead paint litigation.
Michael Kelly — Street fighting litigator that is happy to take on cities, the state, big companies - it does not matter.
Kelly’s cases are often controversial and nuclear. Recently, he beat the Department of Health on the suspension of former State Senator/pharmacist Leo Blais.
Nothing's dull when Kelly is involved.
Mike Sweeney — From Alex and Ani to BENRUS to representing one of the top venture funds in the region, Sweeney is half corporate attorney and half business consultant.
The co-founder of Duffy and Sweeney, he has been one of the most strategically smart advisers in the state.
Frank Williams - The former Chief Justice has been assigned to navigate pension lawsuits, 38 Studios and the Providence Firefighters’ battle with the City of Providence.
He may have more influence and make more money in his new role then he did when he served as Chief Justice.
As GoLocal wrote in April 2015, “Yet like so much of Williams' career in the public eye, the appointment was not without some degree of controversy. Williams will be paid $400 per hour for his work on the case, (according to a wpri.com report) and that fact led to criticisms on social media and talk radio.
Williams’ ability to become a lightning rod has been confounding to both Williams and his friends alike.”
Maureen McKenna Goldberg — Think Diana Ross. She is the lead of the Supremes. Nothing happens in the hallowed chambers of the Rhode Island State Supreme Court without Goldberg’s stamp on it.
With her husband, lobbyist Bob Goldberg making millions in lobbying fees and representing some of the most powerful business interests in business, their reach is wide and deep.
If you want to know what is really happening in the state, then get on their boat one weekend and keep quiet and listen.
Zach Darrow — Busy building one of the most dynamic business law firms in the state, complete with nearly a dozen real estate and corporate attorneys. Add to his mix a lobbying arm that functions like Pac-Man when it comes to tax stabilization agreements.
Darrow’s reach may be a little more complex than many see - the firm now has offices in New York and Miami.
Everyone took note when former Providence City Solicitor and Chief of Staff to Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Jeff Padwa, joined the firm earlier this summer. Darrow moves in mysterious ways.
Michael Forte - Stealth. Forte doesn’t get much press and he likes it that way. The new Chief Judge of the Family Court has a low-profile public persona, but is a growing power in the judiciary.
A Democratic legislator who was appointed to the bench under Governor Ed DiPrete, Forte has amassed some serious power-wattage in Rhode Island.
Knows Both Sides
Artin Coloian - He has enjoyed of the most complicated and seemingly paradoxical careers, as a staffer to both U.S. Senator John Chafee and Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci. A political advisor (and donor) to many — his campaign finance report ranges from Governor Gina Raimondo to GOP Cranston Mayor Allan Fung to Progressive Representative Aaron Regunberg.
Now, Coloian is one of the top criminal attorneys in Rhode Island. He has represented everyone from mobster Bobby DeLuca to Councilman Kevin Jackson to drug kingpins.
Chris Graham — Whether it is a start-up looking to close venture funding or a biotech looking at acquisition, Graham is a skilled craftsman that makes deals happen.
Understated, Graham is now a managing partner at Locke Lord (formerly Edwards and Angell). He is been through all of the firms mergers and transformations and had quietly continued to make deals happen.
Henry Kinch — Once a top advisor to then-Governor Bruce Sundlun and now serves as the Clerk of Providence County Courts.
Kinch is highly respected in and out of the court. When smart political people want advice they call Kinch.
His network extends far beyond Benefit Street. He served as President of the Pawtucket City Council and lost to Don Grebien for Mayor in 2010.
Could a political comeback be in the making?
Behind the Scenes
Claire Richards — She has been crafting the legal strategy for the state of Rhode Island for decades.
She has served in the office of legal counsel for Governors Lincoln Almond (R), Don Carcieri (R), Lincoln Chafee (I/D), and Gina Raimondo (D).
This is not a lifetime appointment - she has served at the pleasure of the Governor for decades. Whether it is a legal strategy on 38 Studios or advising on an appointment, she has been the behind-the-scenes lawyer for the state's top elected officials.
Max Wistow — Don’t look for friendly. His biggest fans say Wistow is one of the most aggressive lawyers in Rhode Island. His detractors use words that are unsuitable for publication.
He was selected by Governor Lincoln Chafee to pursue the recovery of the 38 Studios assets from a collection of litigants -- and in total, he recovered over $60 million.
Some top lawyers are known as a lawyers’ lawyer. Wistow is the lawyer most lawyer would hire to represent them.
Editor's Note: At the time of publication, the recovery was over $40 million, which had been previously noted. The figure has been updated to reflect the total at the conclusion of the legal proceedings, as of 2017.
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