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In March 2013, the Justice Department filed a motion to intervene in a class-action lawsuit against the state of Oregon alleging that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing supported employment services. The class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in January 2012 on behalf of 2,300 Oregon residents with developmental disabilities.  In a filing with the court, government attorneys allege that “the state of Oregon discriminates against individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities by unnecessarily segregating them in sheltered workshops and by placing them at risk of such segregation.” Federal officials said they sought to join the suit after unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate with the state of Oregon.

A key goal of the state’s Employment First plan is to halt a cycle in which special education student’s graduate high school and immediately take jobs in sheltered workshops that, by U.S. law, are allowed to pay less than the federal minimum wage.  Plaintiffs in the case (eight people with disabilities and United Cerebral Palsy of Oregon and Southwest Washington) argue that they have requested assistance to be able to obtain competitive employment for years with no luck and are trapped in a system where sheltered employment — typically paying less than minimum wage — is their only option.  The lawsuit calls for Oregon to revise its system to emphasize supported employment. Such a move would lead to cost savings, advocates say, citing estimates that show sheltered workshops cost as much as three times more per person than offering assistance at jobs in the community.

Now, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is taking steps to alter the employment landscape for those with disabilities. In an executive order set to take effect this summer, Gov. Kitzhaber said the state of Oregon will no longer fund new placements in sheltered workshops as of July 2015.  In the meantime, Gov. Kitzhaber’s order outlines a number of steps the state of Oregon will take to increase competitive employment services and implement new policies developed under the idea that all individuals with intellectual and development disabilities are “capable of working in an integrated employment setting.”

It’s still unclear what impact the governor’s move will have on the class-action lawsuit; however disability advocates nationwide are watching the outcome of the lawsuit so they can decide what actions they may take in their own states.

Resource:  Disability Scoop, a Premier Source for Developmental Disability News

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