UPDATED: RI ACLU Files Complaint Against RI DLT for Lack of Language Accommodations

Friday, July 07, 2017

 

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Steven Brown

The 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.

READ THE COMPLAINT HERE

“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

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.

 

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