HR Key Player In Managing Rising Risk of Disability, Other Discimination Suits Under Obama Administration Justice Department

Latest Action Shows Obama Justice Department Aggressively Enforcing Discrimination Laws

The Justice Department on November 23, 2011 sued the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska and employees of UNK for violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against students with disabilities.  The latest in a growing string of disability and other discrimination suits brought by the Justice Department since the Obama Administration took office, it highlights the growing risk created for private and public organizations by failing to manage compliance with disability or other civil rights laws in the conduct of their business operations, as well as employment practices.

The lawsuit  filed in the U.S. District Court for Nebraska, charges that UNK and its employees engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the Fair Housing Act or denied rights protected by the act by denying reasonable accommodation requests by students with psychological or emotional disabilities seeking to live with emotional assistance animals in university housing.

The Justice Department suit also charges that UNK requires students with psychological disabilities to disclose sensitive medical and other information that is unnecessary to evaluate their accommodation requests. 

The latest in a growing series of disability discrimination lawsuits brought by the Justice Department against public and private landlords and a growing list of other businesses, the UNK lawsuit arises from a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by a student enrolled at UNK who sought to live with an emotional assistance dog that had been prescribed.  The lawsuit seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants’ actions, and a civil penalty.

The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin and disability. With regard to disability discrimination, the Fair Housing Act requires housing providers to give reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities so that all have equal housing opportunities and limits the medical information that landlords can require from persons seeking disability accommodation in order to receive an accommodation.

The Obama Administration Justice Department has made enforcement of disability and other federal discrimination laws a key priority.  Businesses should tighten policies, practices and training to minimize exposures to Justice Department or private plaintiff complaints for violations under these laws.

While most businesses recognize the need to manage compliance with the ADA and other discrimination laws in their employment practices, many businesses and business leaders fail to adequately recognize and provide policies, management controls and training to maintain compliance with federal disability and other discrimination laws prohibiting discrimination against disabled or other customers or others with whom they do business.  Human resources and other management leaders should position their organizations to guard against rising enforcement of these laws by updating policies, oversight and training to ensure that their workers and business partners recognize and know how to conduct themselves properly to fulfill responsibilities to persons with disabilities or others with whom the business deals who may be protected under Federal or state disability discrimination laws.  In addition to adopting and training workers on policies requiring compliance with these laws, businesses should include contractual provisions requiring compliance with these laws in leases and other relevant business contracts.  Most businesses also may want to provide and post information about processes that customers or others who may have a concern about the needs of persons with these special needs to position the business to address concerns that otherwise might go unnoticed until they arise to the level of an agency or other legal  complaint.

If you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment of or responding to a challenge to your organization’s existing policies or practices for dealing with the issues addressed in these publications or other compliance, labor and employment, employee benefit, compensation, internal controls or other management practices, contact attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

For Added Information and Other Resources

If you found this update of interest, you also may be interested in reviewing some of the other updates and publications authored by Ms. Stamer available including:

For Help Or More Information

If you need assistance in auditing or assessing, updating or defending your organization’s compliance, risk manage or other  internal controls practices or actions, please contact the author of this update, attorney Cynthia Marcotte Stamer here or at (469)767-8872.

Board Certified in Labor & Employment Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, management attorney and consultant Ms. Stamer is nationally and internationally recognized for more than 24 years of work helping employers and other management; employee benefit plans and their sponsors, administrators, fiduciaries; employee leasing, recruiting, staffing and other professional employment organizations; and others design, administer and defend innovative workforce, compensation, employee benefit  and management policies and practices. Her experience includes extensive work helping employers implement, audit, manage and defend union-management relations, wage and hour, discrimination and other labor and employment laws, privacy and data security, internal investigation and discipline and other workforce and internal controls policies, procedures and actions.  The Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Committee, a Council Representative on the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, Government Affairs Committee Legislative Chair for the Dallas Human Resources Management Association, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer works, publishes and speaks extensively on management, reengineering, investigations, human resources and workforce, employee benefits, compensation, internal controls and risk management, federal sentencing guideline and other enforcement resolution actions, and related matters.  She also is recognized for her publications, industry leadership, workshops and presentations on these and other human resources concerns and regularly speaks and conducts training on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, and many other national and local publications. For additional information about Ms. Stamer and her experience or to access other publications by Ms. Stamer see here or contact Ms. Stamer directly.

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©2011 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.

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