Updated: Mar 8
A victory for disability rights as the district stands down in a case of civil rights.
By Annette M. Lesure, Staff Writer
The LACCD Board of Trustees unanimously voted Wednesday not to petition the U.S. Supreme Court in Payan v. LACCD in a move that comes exactly five years to the day after the initial lawsuit was filed in federal court.
“The board took action this evening to not file the writ to the U.S. Supreme Court and look to resolve and mediate this matter in the best interest of the students who we serve and in the best interest of the district and I think we’ll get there,” said the LACCD Chancellor Francisco C. Rodriguez.
In 2017, blind students Roy Payan and Portia Mason filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Central California against the LACCD in pleading “denial of equal communication,” claiming multiple professors insolently regarded the plaintiffs “disparate treatment,” which Payan describes as verbal, mental and emotional abuse and “denial of accommodation,” for failing to provide classroom materials in a timely manner.
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit alongside the National Federation of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind of California. In their decision, the district court judge combined disparate impact and denial of accommodation and set in motion the disparate impact issue in the case, which then allowed the LACCD the opportunity to challenge the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals and later the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, the board of trustees listened to over 60 disability advocates before deliberating for over five hours and deciding just after 10 p.m. against filing a writ of certiorari, an order issued by a superior court for the reexamination of a lower court’s actions. With the decision, ADA and Section 504, national equal opportunity laws that protect disabled individuals against discrimination, will remain unscathed. The LACCD will continue to mediate and resolve the plaintiffs’ requests.
“We’re very happy with the board’s unanimous decision,” said Paul Grossman, executive counsel for the Association on Higher Education and Disability. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us. I’m clear that the advocacy and disability communities want to do their best to help LACCD solve the many problems that were uncovered by this lawsuit. I think this is a historic moment in civil rights and in disability rights.”
After the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s original findings, the LACCD never remedied the courts’ demands to comply with the case requests. Instead delaying the possible decision to petition the U.S. Supreme Court till the board of trustees meeting on Wednesday.
“It’s a great day for the rights of all persons with disabilities,” said Payan. “This was a victory that was a long time coming. We have to recognize this victory with the fact that we never should have gotten to this point to begin with. As a disabled person, you want independence just like anybody else. And the only way to get that independence is to get an education to be able to get a job. The only way for us to excel is to get an education because it is hard to turn us down when we have our degrees.”
Throughout the U.S. there are 61 million people with disabilities. One in four Americans has a disability according to the Disability Compendium. Nine-hundred and seventy-three thousand are in LA County alone, which is the area serviced by the LACCD.
“I think the big challenge of universities is this digital accessibility issue,” said Tom L. Thompson, of the LACCD’s Annual Disability Summit keynote speaker. “It involves money, time and resources. It is something that we in universities are going to continue to get in trouble about if we can’t build a structure to do it.”
The LACCD can no longer petition the Supreme Court. However, they can go back to the district court and litigate issues that the appeals court said were not resolved, continue to mediate or choose to settle.
Over 10,000 persons and multiple civil rights organizations petitioned the LACCD not to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mason is still battling accessibility issues as a current student at West LA College. She dropped her child development class on Monday due to not yet having an accessible textbook.
“I feel that justice needs to be served in the right way for all of us,” said Mason, the early childhood development major. “I look at what people went through fifty years ago and I know it took a long time to get to the point of signing the ADA. This is not just for blind people, it’s for all people with disabilities.”