A multi-year investigation launched after a complaint was filed by Legal Aid of North Carolina, the North Carolina Justice Center, and Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont found the North Carolina Department of Commerce failed to comply with its obligations to provide services to persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). And yesterday, the state entered an agreement with the US Department of Labor to finally begin addressing this long-standing problem.
The original complaint alleged that the Department’s Division of Employment Security (DES) and Division of Workforce Solutions (DWS) violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not offering language assistance to persons filing claims for unemployment insurance or seeking job placement or training. In addition, the complaint asserted that the Department of Commerce did not provide written translations of vital documents and failed to make telephone and online services accessible to LEP persons.
For the 430,000 North Carolinians with limited English proficiency at the time the complaint was filed in 2013, the Department’s failure to provide adequate language access caused significant difficulties for them accessing services and benefits. The complaint included affidavits from affected individuals who had to wait hours in order to receive language assistance. Some were unable to report their work search because the telephone and online services to do so are only in English. None was offered any job search or job training services.
The complaint was filed after years of attempts by the complainant organizations to reach an informal resolution with the Department, and was updated in 2015 with examples of continuing problems. The ongoing problems included: failure to identify appellants as LEP individuals needing interpretation for hearings, resulting in the need to reschedule the hearing; and sending notices of hearings and hearing decisions in English only. There were also continuing problems with weekly job search reports since the only avenues for making such reports were in English.
Under the settlement agreement reached between the U.S. Department of Labor’s Civil Rights Center and the Department of Commerce, DES and DWS must
· Assess the language needs of the LEP populations they serve and track and report encounters with LEP individuals;
· Develop and implement meaningful language access plans;
· Correct problems with translations of written materials and online services
· Identify and correct deficiencies with the provision of interpreter services
· Train all staff on their obligations to provide language access to LEP individuals
· Publicize the availability of language assistance and review claims by LEP individuals whose services were denied or delayed
Whether the agreement results in meaningful access for LEP individuals to all of the services to which they are entitled will depend upon the commitment of the Department of Commerce to timely and effective implementation.