Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Consequences of Non-Compliance
By: Bruce L. Adelson, Esq.
Bruce L. Adelson, 2007
If you receive federal money, grants, subsidies or any type of U.S. government assistance, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000, et seq., applies to you. This law prohibits federal financial assistance recipients from discrimination in their subsidized programs or activities based on race, color, or national origin. According to the United States Supreme Court, language-based discrimination equates with national origin discrimination. Violation of Title VI can result in federal subsidy recipients loss of federal funds and liability for monetary damages and injunctive relief in federal court.
According to the 2000 Census, nearly 50 million people in the United States primarily speak non-English languages and speak English less than very well. Title VI protects their ability to have meaningful access to federally subsidized services, free from national origin discrimination. Nationally, the number of limited English proficient U.S. citizens and legal residents continues to grow, as does Title VI awareness, the number of suits and administrative complaints alleging Title VI violations, and federal government enforcement activity. Such trends alert federal subsidy recipients to their potential liability pursuant to one of this country's most far-reaching civil rights laws.
Here are five true stories of what can happen when federal subsidy recipients do not follow Title VI.
Paramedics responded to an emergency call involving an 18 year-old man who spoke primarily Spanish and needed medical attention. The paramedics had no Spanish-language skills or training to enable them to communicate with him. The federally subsidized hospital that the paramedics worked for did not have a trained interpreter available to assist them. The paramedics misunderstood what the man told them and provided inappropriate emergency care that eventually left him a quadriplegic. He and his family filed suit and settled their case for $71 million.
County and state social services departments in a large Midwestern state received substantial federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services. The county and state departments did not provide documents in Spanish or Spanish-language interpreters for their customers, despite receiving several requests for such services. Hispanic citizens sued both departments, alleging Title VI violations. State and county governments fought the case, spending substantial sums in legal fees. After several years of unsuccessful litigation, government defendants settled the case and agreed to provide the Spanish language-based assistance they should have in the first place. In addition, a federal judge ordered the state and county to pay more than $70,000 in plaintiffs legal fees.
A mid-sized Western city employed a police officer whose duties included interpreting for limited English proficient Hispanic people who interacted with the police. The department received federal financial assistance. One evening, the officer was summoned to interpret for a Hispanic man who spoke no English and was accused of committing a violent felony. The officer translated the Miranda warnings to the suspect. The translated warnings included the following: You have the right to speak to me. The alleged felon then confessed and a court subsequently convicted him. Eventually, the state's highest court overturned the conviction, citing the officer�s lack of Spanish language proficiency.
An elderly Russian-speaking man underwent several tests on his heart at a federally assisted medical facility after the doctor who examined him misunderstood a Russian word to be angina. Instead of severe chest pain, the word means sore throat. The doctor did not speak Russian and the hospital had no Russian-language services available. In another case, doctors at a federally subsidized health clinic diagnosed a man from Mexico as a paranoid schizophrenic and committed him to a psychiatric hospital that also received federal assistance. The man was unable to understand Spanish and spoke unintelligibly to the medical professionals who examined him. Eventually, more than two years later, the hospital released him after determining he was not mentally ill and did not speak Spanish. Instead, he spoke a native, indigenous dialect commonly spoken by people from his region of Mexico.
A small city in a large Southern state was the subject of several administrative Title VI complaints. A state agency received federal funds and distributed them among several recipients, including this small city. The state agency investigated the complaints, determined their validity, and terminated the city's federal funds.
Article on Title VI
This article, by Bruce L. Adelson, outlines the DOJ's Title VI Regulations Guidance four factor analysis for federal assistance recipients to use when assessing hoe to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities by LEP individuals. As he states, "The extent that a recipient must provide meaningful access to its programs for LEP people, will depend upon the nature and importance of the services provided."
Language Rights: An Integration Agenda for Immigrant Communities
By Sam Jammal and Tuyet Duong
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) & the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), November 2007
The rights of LEPs are recognized under core civil rights law. Language is not only a barrier to communication, but also an identifying characteristic of an individual�s ethnicity and national origin. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race, ancestry, national origin or ethnicity. The Supreme Court in Lau v. Nichols affirmed a connection between discrimination based on national origin and language rights. In support of this concept of language rights, numerous pieces of federal legislation also address the needs of LEPs. For more go to http://www.migrationinformation.org/integration/language_portal/files/Language_Rights_Briefing_Book.pdf
Summary of Selected Office of Civil Rights LEP Complaint Investigations and Compliance Reviews http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/lep/complaintcompliance.html
© 2013, International Medical Interpreters Association
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