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PJC Files Brief Arguing States Not Immune from Disability Discrimination Suits

Toledo, et al v. Sanchez-Rivera.

On October 24, 2005, the Public Justice Center filed an amicus curiae brief in an important case that will determine whether states have sovereign immunity against claims of disability discrimination. The PJC’s brief supports Ivan Toledo, an individual with Schizoaffective Disorder, a mental disability that caused him to miss some classes during his first year of enrollment at the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Architecture, and when he returned to class, one of his professors refused to provide reasonable accommodations to him, causing Toledo to turn in an incomplete assignment.
Toledo filed suit in federal district court against the University alleging violations of Title II of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The federal District Court dismissed the case on grounds that Congress did not intend to override Puerto Rico’s sovereign immunity when it enacted Title II of the ADA.  Tolelo appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear oral argument on the case on November 7, 2005. .
On appeal, the issue in the case involved whether Congress validly exercised its authority to abrogate state sovereign immunity for suits under Title II of the ADA, as it applies in the context of public education.  PJC’s amicus brief argued that, in Title II of the ADA, Congress formulated a statute carefully designed to undo the effects of past disability discrimination, and to root out ongoing instances of disability discrimination in public entities, including public education.  Specifically, PJC argued that (1) Title II’s application to public schools is supported by a history and continued pattern of unconstitutional discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the context of public education; and (2) Title II’s application to public school buildings and other public facilities used for core civic activities is supported by unconstitutional disability discrimination in voting and government meetings.
The PJC's brief was joined by the AARP, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and 23 other disability rights organizations.The brief was written by Roscoe Jones, Jr., his first as the fifth Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow at the PJC, and assisted by Legal Director Debra Gardner and Appellate Director Suzanne Sangree.

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