DOJ Settles Probe into Segregation of Disabled Student Workers

Jun 13, 2013

The Justice Department calls this “a new day” for the Rhode Islanders with developmental disabilities that were moved into segregated workshops and paid well below what they should have earned. The Department of Justice has settled with the state and city of Providence in a case involving some 200 workers.

At the North Providence company called Training Thru Placement, these disabled workers were paid between $1.57 and $.14 an hour, while students at the Birch school in Providence were paid between $2.00 and $.50 an hour. They did this work segregated from the general population, which the Justice Department said violated the American’s with Disabilities Act. Eve Hill oversaw the probe for the DOJ’s Civil Rights division.

Eve Hill, who oversaw the probe by the Justice Department's Civil Rights division, explains the settlement at a press conference in Providence.
Credit Catherine Welch / RIPR

“Even 23 years after the ADA the state of Rhode Island and the city of Providence have allowed their low expectations to create a system that left people with disabilities no choice but to be separated from society,” said Hill

Former workers at Training Thru Placement will receive back pay.

Craig Stenning, director of the state’s Department of Behavioral Health said there are seven other sheltered workshops in the state, and steps will be taken to shut them down by 2016.

“We have already issued a new participants policy so that no new individuals will ever be place in a sheltered workshop,” said Stenning.

The Birch Vocational School is part of Mt. Hope High School, 85 students were working in its sheltered workshop when it was recently shut down. The Superintendent of Providence Schools, Dr. Susan Lusi, called the findings a disturbing case of oversight failure.

The Justice Department’s Hill said they are continuing to probe into the statewide system of day activities for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you.