HHS Office for Civil Rights Works with Arizona State Court to Ensure Meaningful Access for People with Limited English Proficiency

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is pleased to announce that the Maricopa Superior Court (MSC) in Maricopa County, the largest county in Arizona, has agreed to take a number of action steps to ensure that individuals with limited English proficiency (LEP) are provided meaningful access to justice in its court proceedings and operations, programs and activities.

“The HHS Office for Civil Rights is proud of its work with the Maricopa Superior Court to help persons with limited English proficiency who live in Arizona better seek justice and exercise their rights,” said OCR Director Melanie Fontes Rainer.  “Federal civil rights laws require that we take steps to provide meaningful access to programs and services and today’s announcement is a step forward for communities in Arizona, including those who primarily speak Spanish and other non-English languages. We hope others, including other court systems, look at this model work and seek to improve their programs and services. OCR looks forward to working with other partners to make improvements for our communities.”

OCR initiated a compliance review of MSC after receiving complaints alleging that MSC may have failed to provide LEP individuals involved in child welfare dependency and neglect proceedings with language services. In response, OCR conducted an onsite investigation, interviewed witnesses, and reviewed the court’s programs, policies, and procedures for providing LEP individuals meaningful access to seeking justice and exercising rights in its court services, in compliance with its obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its implementing regulations.  It is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for recipients of federal financial assistance to fail to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to people whose primary language is not English.

During this review, OCR identified concerns regarding the availability of translated vital documents such as court orders, pleadings, and minute entries for LEP individuals who are represented by counsel. OCR notified MSC of its concerns, and MSC agreed to work collaboratively with OCR to strengthen its language access services.  After OCR provided technical assistance to MSC, MSC agreed to include the following written notice at the bottom of minute entries and orders for all court cases that have been identified as having a party with LEP:

  • Notification of the availability of free language assistance services in the top three primary non-English languages encountered by MSC; and
  • Notification of the availability of an audio and video recording of a court hearing in the top three primary non-English languages encountered by MSC.

HHS is taking steps to improve meaningful communication with LEP individuals by relaunching its Language Access Steering Committee (Steering Committee) to support HHS’s implementation of language access obligations under President Joe Biden’s recent Executive Orders (EOs), as well as similar obligations under the HHS Equity Action Plan. As part of this Steering Committee, all HHS agencies will reassess and update their language access plans to ensure that LEP persons have meaningful access to HHS-administered health and human services programs and activities.

OCR offers resources and best practices to help organizations take reasonable steps to make their programs, services, and activities accessible by eligible persons with limited English proficiency:  https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/special-topics/limited-english-proficiency/index.html.

OCR commends the Maricopa Superior Court for the resources it has dedicated to developing and implementing its language access policies and procedures, and its commitment to providing individuals with LEP meaningful access to its court proceedings.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against in programs or activities that HHS directly operates or to which HHS provides federal financial assistance, you may file a complaint for yourself or someone else at:  https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/filing-a-complaint/index.html.

Originally published at https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2022/11/22/hhs-office-for-civil-rights-works-with-arizona-state-court-to-ensure-meaningful-access-for-people-with-limited-english-proficiency.html

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