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Resolving Disputes with Public Entities

Table of Contents

Using ADA Coordinators and Grievance Procedures to Resolve Disputes

Do you believe you have been denied equal access to a program or service offered by a public entity because of a disability? Were you denied a reasonable modification that you requested in order to access the services or programs offered? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides a mechanism to resolve disability discrimination disputes about access to public entities without having to engage in litigation by filing a complaint in federal court.

What the law requires

Any public entity that employs more than 50 people must designate an ADA coordinator and establish a grievance procedure. A public entity is “any State or local government” or “any department, agency, special purpose district or other instrumentality of a State or States of local government.”[1]

The requirement to designate an ADA coordinator and publicize his or her contact information is meant “to ensure that individuals dealing with large agencies are able to easily find a responsible person who is familiar with the [the ADA] and can communicate those requirements to other individuals in the agency who may be unaware of their responsibilities.”[2]

“A public entity that employs 50 or more persons shall designate at least one employee to coordinate its efforts to comply with and carry out its responsibilities” under the ADA.[3] “The public entity shall make available to all interested individuals the name, office address, and telephone number of the employee or employees designated” to coordinate ADA efforts and compliance.[4]

In addition, a public entity covered by this rule must investigate complaints of the entity’s non-compliance with the ADA.[5]  The public entity is required to “adopt and publish grievance procedures providing for prompt and equitable resolution of complaints.”[6]

Contacting the ADA Coordinator

If a person feels that a public entity that employs more than 50 people has violated their rights under the ADA, they should notify the entity’s ADA coordinator in writing. You should be able to find the ADA coordinator by calling the public entity or searching for the information online. If you cannot determine who the public entity’s ADA coordinator is, you may need to make a written request to the public entity’s director or chief officer.  If you are not able to identify the ADA coordinator through this process, contact Disability Rights NC for further assistance.

How to file an ADA grievance

Once a person has made contact with the ADA coordinator, they should request information on the public entity’s grievance procedure. Read the grievance procedure thoroughly and be sure to comply with all timeframes that are set forth within. Most grievance procedures require a written complaint, and usually a letter will be enough to start the process.

A person is not required to file a grievance with the ADA coordinator before making a complaint in court or pursuing a complaint with a federal agency (see below), if they so choose.[7] Please keep in mind that there are strict time limits for filing lawsuits in court.[8]

If the grievance is not resolved

You may choose to pursue litigation or a complaint with federal enforcement authorities.  Which agency you file with will depend on the nature of the entity against which you have a grievance.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division’s Project Civic Access investigates ADA complaints against counties, cities, towns and villages to ensure the elimination of physical and communication barriers. To learn more about Project Civic Access, visit  http://www.ada.gov/civicac.htm or contact the U.S. Department of Justice’s ADA information line at 1 (800) 514-0301.

Other U.S. departments, such as the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Housing and Urban Development, and Federal Transit Administration, have offices of civil rights that investigate and enforce ADA compliance with regard to state public entities over which they have authority.

Additional Resources

FAQ on filing a grievance with an ADA coordinator for Clients.

Sample letters

Footnotes

[1] 28 C.F.R. § 35.107.

[2] 28 C.F.R. Part 35 Appx. B § 35.107.

[3] 28 C.F.R.  35.107(a).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] 28 C.F.R. § 35.107(b).

[7] Id. (In cases of employment discrimination under Title I of the ADA, administrative exhaustion through the EEOC is required.  Contact Disability Rights NC for information specific to employment discrimination.)

[8] Typically, the statute of limitations to file a complaint under Title II of the ADA in a federal district court located in North Carolina is two years. See A Soc’y Without a Name, for People without a Home, Millennium Future-Present v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342 (4th Cir. Va. 2011); J.W. v. Croom, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136300 (E.D.N.C. Sept. 24, 2012); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 168A-12.

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