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California Jail Enters Settlement Agreement Resolving DOJ Investigation into ADA Violations

by David M. Reutter

California’s San Luis Obispo County entered into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on June 23, 2021, resolving alleged violations at the county jailof the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. ch. 126, § 12101 et seq.

DOJ initiated an investigation after detainee Steven J. York filed a civil rights action in 2019 in the Superior Court for San Luis Obispo County. Aided by attorney Trace Milan, York, who has mobility issues and uses a prosthetic leg, alleged that the jail failed to provide him with an accessible cell or shower, forcing him to use inaccessible facilities in which he repeatedly fell. One of those falls caused a fracture to the femur of York’s partially amputated leg. Beyond his injury, York also alleged that the failure to provide accessible facilities denied him equal opportunities for yard time, recreation, or programming, inflicting unnecessary isolation on him as a result of his disability. See: York v. San Luis Obispo Cty., Cal. Super. (Cty. of San Luis Obispo), Case No. 19CV-0397.

When its investigation concluded, DOJ substantiated that the jail “contains architectural and programmatic barriers to access for persons with mobility disabilities.” Specifically, DOJ found the jail “excludes qualified individuals with mobility disabilities, by reason of their disabilities, from safely accessing or participating in its programs, services, and activities, including but not limited to its showers, restrooms, and cells, in violation of the architectural and programming requirements” of the ADA.

The Settlement Agreement required the county to take steps to put its jail into compliance with the ADA. First, it was given 90 days to assure that disabled detainees were “housed in cells with accessible elements necessary to afford the inmates access to safe, appropriate housing.” Within 18 months, architectural modifications must also be completed to cells, toilet rooms, and showers in order to fully comply with ADA.

Jail staff was to be trained within 120 days on ADA nondiscrimination requirements. That was 30 days after the deadline for an ADA Coordinator to be put in place and trained. The agreement is due to terminate 24 months after its effective date of June 24, 2021. But if the county meets all ADA requirements sooner and no violations exist, the agreement can be terminated early. The Agreement also provided for York to receive a settlement of $175,000. See: Settlement Agreement Between the United States of America and San Luis Obispo County, DJ No. 204-12C-506, USAO No. 2018V01548 (2021). 

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Related legal case

York v. San Luis Obispo Cty., Cal. Super. (Cty. of San Luis Obispo)