January 29, 2015
D.C. Councilmember-At-Large David Grosso
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
Dear Councilmember Grosso:
Washington Council of Lawyers writes to express our support for the Language Access Amendment Act of 2014 that you introduced in September of 2014. In particular, the Washington Council of Lawyers strongly supports the private right of action proposed in your bill. We hope that you will re-introduce the bill, including the private right of action, in the new Council session.
Washington Council of Lawyers is a voluntary bar association devoted to ensuring that the justice system in the District of Columbia serves everyone, including those who are poor or marginalized. As you are aware, many low-income and otherwise marginalized members of our community are Limited-English Proficient or Non-English Proficient. The Language Access Act offers critical protection that helps to ensure city agencies serve those individuals adequately.
The current Language Access Act allows individuals to file Language Access Complaints only with the Office of Human Rights. Although this process can lead to the issuance of “corrective actions,” it does not provide the complainant—the individual whose rights to interpretation or translation were actually violated—with any direct and comprehensive relief. At the same time, the process places demands on the complainant’s time to file the complaint and participate in the investigation. By requiring a time commitment for complainants, but failing to provide meaningful relief to those complainants, the current process has discouraged many individuals from filing complaints about violation of the Act.
Even when affected individuals do file complaints, the current process often fails to produce meaningful improvements. In particular, government agencies often fail to comply with the corrective actions issued under the current complaint process.
The bill you introduced in September would address the current limitations by providing an essential enforcement mechanism under the Act: a private right of action. A private right of action will lead to better compliance with the Act, because individuals would have the opportunity to bring cases in D.C. Superior Court, and to receive a direct benefit in the form of damages resulting from violations of their rights. This would encourage individuals to bring such complaints; help right the wrongs done to them when the Act is violated; and better ensure that the Act is able to realize its goal of a city in which Limited-English Proficient or Non-English Proficient individuals may be informed of, participate in, and benefit from public services, programs, and activities at a level equal to those who are English proficient.
We hope that you will re-introduce the bill in the new D.C. Council session, and that you will continue to support the proposed private right of action.
Paul S. Lee
President, Washington Council of Lawyers
cc: Anne Robinson, General Counsel, Committee on Education