On August 3, 2005, a group of disabled persons filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the New York Human Resources Administration (NYHRA) for violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, the Due Process Clauses of both the U.S. and New York State Constitutions, and New York State and City civil rights statutes and regulations.
Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that the NYHRA discriminated against them by involuntarily transferring their public benefits cases from their neighborhood welfare center to one of three "hub" centers that were exclusively designated for disabled persons. The plaintiffs further claimed that these "hub" centers segregated disabled persons and failed to provide reasonable accommodations to those whose disability made it difficult to travel. The plaintiffs, represented by the Legal Aid Society of New York and private counsel, asked the court for a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, injunctive and declaratory relief, and attorney's fees.
On September 19, 2005, Judge Laura Taylor Swain approved a stipulation between the two parties where the defendant agreed to (1) transfer the named plaintiffs back to their local welfare centers, (2) stop the involuntary transfer of disabled persons, (3) provide the plaintiffs with notice of any voluntary transfers and (4) combine the hearing on the temporary restraining order with the hearing on the preliminary injunction. On November 11, 2005, the Court approved another stipulation where the defendant agreed to stop involuntary transfers and give notice of voluntary transfers.
On April 19, 2006, Judge Swain certified plaintiffs as a class. In the same order, Judge Swain issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the NYHRA from reassigning class members' cases to the hubs and requiring the NYHRA to give the transferred plaintiffs the right to return their case to their local center. This preliminary injunction was suspended on May 16, 2006 after the NYHRA informed the court that it was closing the hub centers.
On December 11, 2006, the plaintiffs amended the complaint to request that the court order the defendant to reopen cases that were closed due to class members failing to attend mandatory meetings at the hub centers.
For the next five years, discovery and negotiations dominated the case. The case was reassigned in November of 2011 to Judge Katherine B. Forrest.
On March 27, 2012, the plaintiffs moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether any of the plaintiff class would be excluded from the collection of compensatory damages, which was denied by Judge Forrest as premature.
Following two more years of discovery, on November 25, 2014, the parties entered into a partial settlement. The agreement included compensation for foregone Cash Assistance benefits, reimbursement for Medicaid-covered expenses, and expungement of sanctions incurred while class members were assigned to hubs. Then, on March 11, 2015, Judge Forrest reviewed a proposed settlement of all claims, preliminarily approving it subject to a fairness hearing.
Under the proposed settlement, the defendant agrees to implement a broad set of policies and practices for class members. This included implementing "Disability Inquiry Methods", written scripts and screening protocols for the staff to identify client disabilities that may pose barriers to complying with program requirements and maintaining access to benefits, as well as any needed Reasonable Accommodation (as defined by the ADA). The agency agreed to have a non-exhaustive list of reasonable accommodations available to identified clients. The agency agreed to help facilitate successful federal disability benefit applications, including a referral to a vendor to assist with appealing a denial of benefits. The agreement also outlined procedures for mandatory pre- and post-reminders for appointments, and protocols for hospitalized and homeless class members. The agency also agreed to additional training, to accept feedback from a Disability Advisory Community Panel, to have court supervised monitoring, and to have more accessible materials available.
On June 22, 2015, Judge Forrest approved the class action settlement. As of April 3, 2016, the parties had not yet agreed on attorney's fees. Brian Kempfer - 01/28/2014
Kevin Nomura - 04/06/2015
Kat Brausch - 04/07/2016