Heirs of eugenics victims denied compensation take their case to the Court of Appeals

Heirs of some state residents sterilized against their will under North Carolina’s state-sanctioned eugenics program will make their case for compensation before a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals on Monday afternoon, arguing that the legislature’s distinction between living and deceased victims for purposes of restitution violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

They’ve been excluded from payments because of a provision of the eugenics compensation law that requires victims to have been “alive on June 30, 2013.”

Between 1926 and 1974, North Carolina sterilized some 7,600 state residents against their will. Decades later, Gov. Mike Easley publicly apologized to the victims and their families and lawmakers began discussions about compensation for the state’s shameful program.

They spoke of health funds to cover victims’ medical expenses and public education efforts to inform state schoolchildren about eugenics history, funded an interactive exhibit about the program at the N.C. Museum of History and proposed awards as high as $50,000 per victim, with no cap on a compensation fund.

But by the time compensation became a reality in 2013, the state’s offering had been stripped down to a capped $10 million fund, with little else.

Nearly 790 victims or their families filed claims for payment from that fund by a June 30, 2014 deadline. The Industrial Commission then reviewed the claims and found that 220 qualified for compensation.  An initial payment of $20,000 was sent to them in October 2014, and a second in the amount of $15,000 went out at the beginning of November.  The remaining funds are being held pending appeals.

“This second check represents the next step in making amends for one of the darkest chapters in our history,” Governor McCrory said in a statement following the second payment. “No amount of money can undo the harm that occurred, but it is my hope that this compensation will give victims some measure of solace, comfort and vindication.”

Among those denied payment are the heirs of victims otherwise qualified but who died before the June 30, 2013 cutoff date set by the General Assembly.

The victims include Kay Francis Redmond, who as described in a recent editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal “was labeled ‘feeble-minded’ and forcibly sterilized at 14 in Iredell County. “

Redmond later suffered from depression after learning what happened to her and died five years ago at 69.

Redmond had a daughter before the state sterilized her, though, who went on to graduate from high school, attend college for a year and now works as a phlebotomist and has been the administrator of her mother’s estate.

The Industrial Commission’s denial of her claim is “just unfair,” Nichols told the Winston-Salem Journal in October. “Everyone didn’t get justice.”

In papers filed with the court, lawyers for the state argue that the exclusion of heirs of victims who died before the cut-off date aligns with the purpose of the funding law, which was to compensate victims only.

But as the heirs who’ve been denied compensation point out, that argument is undermined by a separate provision of the law that allows for compensation to the heirs of victims who filed a timely claim but died after the cutoff date.

So, if a victim died before June 30, 2013, the families get nothing. But if a victim filed a claim by that date and then died, the families are compensated.

That results in similarly-situated victims being treated differently, their attorneys argue, and bears no rational relationship to the purpose of the compensation program — which is to provide restitution to all who suffered at the hands of the state under the eugenics program.

“One could indeed surmise that the apparent purpose of the living victim threshold is to limit the number of compensation recipients,” the attorneys argue in papers filed with the court.

“Even if the Legislature’s motive was benign (to issue larger shares of the fund to each recipient), not only does that purpose bear no rational relationship to the Program’s remedial purpose, but it would perniciously incentivize the rejection of claims. Such a rationale cannot withstand even the lowest level of Equal Protection review.”

Argument in three separate cases brought by victim’s families will be heard before Judges Linda McGee, Chris Dillon and Mark Davis at the N.C. Court of Appeals on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 at 1:00 p.m.


State officials still failing basic test of decency is sterilization compensation mess

eugenics-board-markerIn case you missed it over the weekend, John Railey of the Winston-Salem Journal had another powerful article about the ongoing disaster that is the state of North Carolina’s failed response to its disastrous experiment with “eugenics” in the the last century. As you’re probably aware, the issue of thousands of North Carolinians being subjected to forced sterilizations in the mid-20th Century is something that’s been swept under the rug and inadequately addressed for years. In recent years, however, the state, finally got it’s act together — sort of anyway — and began to compensate at least some of the surviving victims. As Railey explained, however, the money has now stopped flowing:

“North Carolina’s state budget impasse is leaving many people in limbo, but none more so than the victims of our state’s sterilization program, who in 2013 were allocated a $10 million compensation pool from which they will equally share. They got their first checks, for $20,000 each, this past October. But since then, they have heard hardly anything from the state about their final payments, which could bring their total compensation to as much as $50,000 each.

All across our state, and in other states as well, victims of North Carolina’s program are wondering when they will get their final checks. The state won’t do the victims the simple courtesy of sending them a mass mailing in which it explains the delay. We here at the Journal editorial board tell several victims fortunate enough to have our phone number the reasons for the delay. There’s the state budget process, which is taking the longest time in years for the legislature and the governor to nail down. And even after the state leaders agree on a budget, it’s uncertain when the next compensation payment will go out.”

The story went on to explain how victims can’t even get a straight answer as to what is next from the officials charged with overseeing the compensation. As Railey reports:

“Victims whom I’ve long talked to felt good when they got those first checks in October, which came with a letter stating that, because of the appeal process, it was uncertain when the next checks would go out.

Then came the big silence. The commission has said very little to the victims. The understaffed state Office of Justice for Sterilization Victims has an ‘information hotline.’ But victims whom I often talk to say the answers they get there when they do get through aren’t satisfactory.”

All in all it’s a fitting — if thoroughly unacceptable — latest chapter in this sordid and outrageous saga. Click here to read Railey’s entire article.


There he goes again: State Senator Tucker inserts foot in mouth once more

Tommy Tucker 2The last time any significant number of North Carolinians were aware of state Senator Tommy Tucker was probably a couple of years ago when the Waxhaw Republican made some incredibly arrogant statements to people trying to inform lawmakers of the truth about some controversial issues.

“I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to sit down,” was Tucker’s now infamous quote.

Now, Tucker is back in the news making another clueless and borderline offensive remark — this one regarding the victims of the state’s horrific forced sterilization program of the 20th Century and the new and ridiculously inadequate compensation program for victims.

As the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill reported this morning, advocates for eugenics victims are pointing out the existence of a truck-sized loophole in the compensation law. Under the law, hundreds, if not thousands, of people are being denied compensation because their sterilizations took place in county facilities rather than state facilities.

This is, by any fair assessment, outrageous. To think that victims will have to go to the expense and trouble of taking up their compensation claims against individual  counties after decades of effort to get a state compensation law through is simply astounding. Unfortunately, good ol’ Senator Tucker doesn’t see it that way. This is from the Observer article:

“Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Union County Republican who co-chairs the Senate’s appropriations committee on Health and Human Services, said ‘the state’s done its part.’

‘They should go to the county where they were sterilized, not the state,’ he said of those victims. ‘The state’s done its part to right the wrongs that we did, but the county should be responsible for what it did.’

Uh, pardon us Senator, but the last time we checked, the counties of North Carolina were creatures of the state. Moreover, forced sterilization was, by any fair assessment, a monstrous state-supported initiative with disastrous statewide results. The victims have already been denied justice for far too long and the compensation packages available are already inadequate. That the state of North Carolina would attempt play a game of bait and switch with such an abused group of human beings is almost beyond comprehension.

Please do the right thing, Senator. Help get all of these injured people the money they deserve ASAP and then just sit down and be quiet.


A fairly pathetic start to eugenics compensation

The Winston-Salem Journal reports that the state has mailed out about 200 checks to commence the inadequate and uninspired compensation plan for victims of the state’s 45-year-long eugenics program.

Elaine Riddick got a call this week that had been more than 40 years in the making.

Riddick, a victim of North Carolina’s eugenics program, said she received word from the state that they would send her a eugenics compensation payment at the end of the month.

“I have been fighting this for over 40 years,” said Riddick, who is now 60 years old.

As you will recall the program forcibly sterilized around 7,600 people from 1929 to 1974. Sadly, not only is the compensation plan too little and too late for most of those victimized, but even now, state officials continue to respond to requests for compensation in a narrow and tightfisted way.

Let’s hope that sometime soon, state leaders come to their senses and move to expand outreach, funding, eligibility and assistance for claimants  for the program as advocates like the good folks at the state NAACP have been demanding for months.


Industrial Commission denies more than 300 eugenics claims in initial review

According to a release today by the N.C. Department of Administration, as of July 31, 2014 the state Industrial Commission has denied more than 300 claims for compensation from the $10 million Eugenics Compensation Fund.

The Office for Justice of Sterilization Victims had received 780 claim forms from potential Eugenics Board sterilization victims by the June 30 deadline.  It  forwarded 565 claims to the Industrial Commission for initial determination and requested additional information from the remaining claimants.

Of the 565 sent to the Industrial Commission, 500 claims were reviewed and sent initial determination orders. Only 180 of those were deemed “qualified” for compensation.

Per payment provisions enacted with the new budget, those claimants will receive an initial payment in October.

Read more about the eugenics program here.