ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Federal litigators reached a civil settlement Tuesday with the largest operator of group homes in Virginia for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities over allegations it failed to provide necessary sign language interpreters.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger announced the settlement with Richmond-based Good Neighbor Homes Inc.
The settlement resolves allegations that the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to provide an interpreter for a deaf resident. The complaint alleged that interpreters were missing even during important meetings including discussions about investigation of an accident in which the woman was seriously injured.
The complaint alleged that the resident’s sister was often forced to step in to provide communication assistance. Court papers indicate the woman lived at a Good Neighbor group home in Goochland County near Richmond from 2014 to 2017.
Terwilliger said the resident suffered from multiple disabilities in addition to being deaf, including cerebral palsy, and that service providers must be prepared to handle all necessary aspects of care.
Good Neighbor, which runs more than 50 group homes across the state, agreed to pay $225,000 to the resident, $40,000 to the sister and a $50,000 civil penalty.
Charles James, a lawyer for Good Neighbor, said in a statement Tuesday that compliance with the ADA is a priority for the company.
“Good Neighbor is glad to have resolved any misunderstanding of our former resident’s communication needs and preferences,” James said.
Terwilliger also announced he’s creating a Civil Rights Enforcement Unit in his office that will be dedicated to such cases. He said it will be the only unit among the 93 U.S. Attorney offices nationwide with multiple lawyers committed to such a unit.
The Eastern District of Virginia is best known for national security cases involving terrorism and espionage, but Terwilliger said the office has long had a strong civil rights component. Still, he said, “the needs of the disability community far outpaces the resources of our office.”
Going forward, the office will have three full-time assistant U.S. attorneys who will focus on civil rights cases involving the Americans with Disabilities Act and two federal laws protecting the rights of veterans and servicemembers.
Terwilliger said he has been working for more than two years to find the funding to expand the office’s capability on civil rights cases. He said the issue is personal for him, as a diagnosed dyslexic who thrived because he had skilled special education teachers who helped him develop learning strategies to overcome his disability.