MEDIA RELEASE: NC Department of Commerce’s insufficient language services found to violate Civil Rights Act

Department enters agreement with U.S. Department of Labor to improve language access in employment services

RALEIGH (September 28, 2016) — The U.S. Department of Labor will begin work with the North Carolina Department of Commerce to bring into compliance North Carolina's unemployment insurance and employment service programs, which were found to insufficiently provide services to individuals with limited English proficiency — a clear violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

The announcement resulted from a compliance review by the federal department's Civil Rights Center (CRC), which was prompted by a discrimination complaint by Legal Aid of North Carolina in conjunction with the NC Justice Center and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont. The CRC discovered that policies and programs at the state's Divisions of Employment Security (DES) and Workforce Solutions (DWS) — which administer the unemployment insurance and employment service programs, respectively — required improvement in order to provide meaningful access to limited English proficient individuals.

"Every eligible jobless worker should be able to access the unemployment benefits they need to make ends meet, as well as job training and assistance with their job search," said Carol Brooke, a staff attorney with the NC Justice Center. "But for too many years, North Carolina’s unemployment insurance and workforce development system locked many jobless workers out of these benefits by failing to provide adequate access to those with limited English proficiency."

As part of the agreement, the state's DES and DWS programs will assess the language needs of the populations they serve, develop and implement language access plans, identify deficiencies in the provision of interpretation services, and provide training to all staff on language access obligations, among other agreements (a full list of the program requirements can be found at this link).

While these problems predated the current administration, the opportunity to fix the problem has continued to the present, attorneys said, and access for individuals with limited English proficiency has become even more difficult due to the elimination of many local DES offices to help with unemployment claims and the move to online services.

"Yesterday’s announcement that the Department of Commerce has finally agreed to come into compliance with its obligations to serve everyone without discrimination is very encouraging," Brooke said. "But achieving this goal depends on prompt and thorough implementation of the settlement agreement. This will require a substantial change of practices by the Divisions of Employment Security and Workforce Solutions, which we will continue to monitor closely.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Carol Brooke, carol@ncjustice.org, 919.856.2144; Julia Hawes, julia@ncjustice.org, 919.863.2406.

 

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