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  • Pennsylvania court rules language based discrimination is a violation of federally protected civil rights
    April 13, 2017
    A 2016 federal court ruling demonstrated that language-based discrimination constitutes a form of national origin discrimination prohibited by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    In recent years, an increasing number of cases involving language access law has filled federal courtrooms around the country. With each new case, the courts further articulate how federal language access law must be applied in real-world contexts. With that in mind, it is important for businesses, government agencies, healthcare providers, and other organizations to keep abreast of these legal developments to avoid ending up in courtrooms themselves.

    In this post, Bruce Adelson – a nationally-recognized expert in language access law — breaks down a 2016 case where a Pennsylvania federal court ruled that discriminating against someone based on his/her ability to speak English is a form of national origin discrimination, and therefore a violation of federal civil rights laws.

    This decision impacts everyone, in healthcare, government, business settings and more, and their federal legal obligations.

    The Case

    In late 2016, a federal court in Pennsylvania rejected the School District of Philadelphia’s attempt to throw out a civil rights class action lawsuit by parents alleging that Philadelphia’s public schools discriminate against their children. The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in the case to support the parents’ claims, seeking “to ensure that the national origin protections of [federal law] are applied properly,” according to the Justice Department’s Statement of Interest as filed with the Court. The parents also asserted that they and their children experienced disability discrimination under federal civil rights laws.

    The parents claimed that the Philadelphia School District provides “inadequate translation and interpretation services to limited English proficient (“LEP”) students with disabilities and their parents.” The parents and their children in this case speak primarily Spanish.

    In their complaint, the parents alleged that the inadequate translation and interpretation services deprive the School District’s LEP students and their parents the ability to meaningfully participate in the Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) process. Specifically, according to the Court, the parents claimed:

    “During the 2012-2013 school year, the School District employed an outside contractor that may have translated some special education documents. However, as of the 2013-2014 school year, the School District no longer employed this outside contractor. Additionally, the Translation and Interpretation Center, an internal department within the School District, never translated an IEP in its entirety…

    Although the School District has attempted to provide some interpretation services during IEP team meetings, those efforts have been sporadic and incomplete. Additionally, the School District has failed to conduct evaluations of LEP students in their native language.”

    The parents alleged that their federal language access civil rights and those of their children under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Equal Education Opportunities Act (EEOA) had been violated by the School District’s alleged translation and interpretation failures.

    The Philadelphia School District denied the parents’ claims and tried to convince the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania that the parents had no federal case. In part, the School District argued that discrimination based on limited English proficiency is not the same as discrimination based on national origin, the discrimination prohibited by Title VI and the EEOA.

    The School District also asserted that it effectively has no broad, all-encompassing obligation to translate into Spanish as many documents as the parents claimed. The translation obligation is informed by a case- by-case determination, according to the School District, and any failure to translate certain documents into Spanish is not enough to prove federal civil rights discrimination. The School District filed a Motion to Dismiss the parents’ complaint and allegations.

    The Court disagreed with the School District and denied the Motion to Dismiss. The case may now proceed all the way to a full trial.

    U.S. District Judge Goldberg, citing the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court case of Lau v. Nichols and the arguments of the Department of Justice, decided that “… language based discrimination can constitute an actionable form of national origin discrimination. The numerous cases cited by the United States and the DOJ’s guidance, read in conjunction with Lau, foreclose dismissal of Plaintiffs’ EEOA and Title VI claims.”

    The Court restated the Justice Department’s recitation of the federal law of national origin and language based discrimination. The Court’s discussion is provided below:

    “In their statement of interest, the United States notes that, consistent with Lau, numerous federal courts have found that language based discrimination constitutes a form of national origin discrimination prohibited by Title VI. See, e.g., United States v. Maricopa Cty., Ariz., 915 F. Supp. 2d 1073, 1079 (D. Ariz. 2012) (“longstanding case law, federal regulations and agency interpretation of those regulations hold language-based discrimination constitutes a form of national origin discrimination under Title VI”); Serna v. Portales Mun. Sch., 499 F.2d 1147, 1153 (10th Cir. 1974); Jones v. Gusman, 296 F.R.D. 416, 454 (E.D. La. 2013). 

    The United States also points to federal regulations and guidance which require federal funding recipients to take reasonable steps to communicate with LEP persons in languages other than English to ensure meaningful access under Title VI… The United States asserts and the School District concedes that the DOJ’s guidance on a recipient’s obligations to LEP individuals are entitled to deference in the Title VI context. “

    Federal language assistance and access law has far reaching impacts that arise from myriad sources and requirements. Public school districts, as well as cities, states, counties, and health care providers should proactively assess their legal obligations, evaluate their compliance and prepare legally compliant Language Access Plans and related policies and procedures to help ensure they are on the right side of federal law.

    © Bruce L. Adelson, special for Bromberg.  2017 All Rights Reserved The material herein is educational and informational only.  No legal advice is intended or conveyed.

    Bruce L. Adelson, Esq, CEO of Federal Compliance Consulting LLC is nationally recognized for his compliance expertise concerning many federal laws.  Mr. Adelson is a former U.S Department of Justice Senior Attorney.  During his Justice career, Mr. Adelson had national enforcement and policy responsibility. 



  • Thanks to Bromberg & Associates, LLC, I got my document translated in a very short time within 48 hours in excellent quality. 

    Private Client
  • When our club wanted to help women who were being exploited, we decided to create an informational brochure and to have it translated into other languages in addition to English. It seemed like a daunting undertaking! Fortunately a committee member found Bromberg & Associates. At every step in the process of creating, translating and distributing the brochure, Jinny Bromberg and her capable staff provided creative solutions, always in a timely, fairly priced and cost-effective manner. Moreover, as a business committed to its community, Ms. Bromberg and her staff contributed their considerable knowledge and sensitivity, which greatly added to the project’s success. We look forward to working with them in the future. 

    The Service Committee of Zonta of Detroit I
  • Thanks to your team for all of their hard work on Automation Alley’s business attraction video. The finished product is exactly what we were looking for! Thanks again and we look forward to working with you again in the future. 

    Automation Alley
  • Bromberg & Associates staff was a pleasure to work with. This translation company had a great representation of professionalism and showed high level of work ethics. I would definitely recommend them to anyone who needs professional translation in a very reasonable time frame. 

    Oksana B. Moceri
    Private Client
  • Your company has a very good reputation. Your associates are informative, efficient, friendly and helpful. I consider myself very lucky that I worked with Bromberg & Associates to have my birth certificate translated from Spanish to English. All initial document transfers and revisions were done electronically via e-mail. I appreciate Bromberg’s use of technology. I never had to drive to Hamtramck. Apparently, other translation agencies don’t pay such careful attention to the exactness of the original document layout. Your fine attention to detail is greatly appreciated. I received the translation in the mail and was thrilled that I got the documents so quickly. I was back at the Secretary of State Super Center and they accepted the translation no problem. I have possession of my enhanced driver’s license thanks to Bromberg. 

    Ellen Hochberg
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    Private Client
  • The Hamtramck Housing Commission is very pleased with the work performed by Bromberg & Associates. Our project was complicated and extremely sensitive to our continued success.  Bromberg provided us with top-notch service at an affordable price. The entire Bromberg staff provided quick, reliable service; they were very responsive to our needs and finished our difficult project with ease. Bromberg accomplished what no other firms were unable to even touch.  I would not hesitate to use their services again, or recommend them to anyone.  

    Hamtramck Housing Commission
  • I would like to thank you for your excellent service and prompt delivery of CDs we ordered.Our agency delivers Language Interpreter Courses in partnership with St. Clair College and your Linguistic Resources for Medical and Legal interpreters in different languages are very helpful for our students.We are looking forward for long cooperation with your company and for your new products.

    Lana Gurbouzov
    Language Services Coordinator, Multicultural Council of Windsor and Essex County
  • Brombeg & Associates was excellent to work with. Their response was prompt, their translations thorough, and their staff knowledgeable. They provided every document for review and once approved sent the notarized copies within 24 hours!

    Kyle McAllister
    Private Client
  • On behalf of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, I have used Bromberg & Associates on numerous occasions, and have always been impressed and completely satisfied with their work. Prompt customer service and communication is key when it comes to Bromberg's employees. Their work is always flawless and is produced with a quick turnaround.

    Dana Zolynsky
    Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • I have used Bromberg & Associates many times over the past year for various language projects. Bromberg has been able to fill my entire request very timely and their linguists are extremely professional. Bromberg is my "go-to" foreign language company for all my company's needs.

    Kim Brothers
  • Our business's experience with Bromberg & Associates goes back several years. They have always been fast to respond, reasonably priced and do excellent follow-up on everything. Very professional and extremely attentive to detail. We are very happy to have been dealing with Bromberg & Associates!

    Douglas Rossire