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LA County Board of Supervisors Approves Settlement Ending Discrimination Against Family Services Applicants with Mental Health Disabilities

— April 4, 2024

DCFS relied on this discriminatory psychological evaluation to reject large numbers of otherwise-qualified applicants every year, including nearly 20% of the people participating in its MSW Trainee Program.

Los Angeles, California—On March 19, 2024, the Los Angeles County (County) Board of Supervisors approved a settlement agreement in the case of Jane Doe and Mary Roe v. County of Los Angeles (Case No. 21STCV27868) that will lead to a complete overhaul of the way the County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) evaluates prospective interns and applicants for Children’s Social Worker employment. Read the settlement agreement.

Plaintiffs Jane Doe and Mary Roe—graduates of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work and former participants in the County’s Masters of Social Work (MSW) Trainee Program—filed this case in 2021, claiming that the County forced them to undergo an unlawful pre-employment psychological evaluation, withdrew their internship and job offers based on assumptions about their mental health, failed to consider possible accommodations in good faith, and otherwise discriminated against them on the basis of disability.

Plaintiffs alleged that for nearly four decades, DCFS had subjected prospective interns and applicants for Children’s Social Worker employment to a “pre-employment” psychological evaluation protocol that was designed expressly to identify and exclude applicants with a variety of mental health symptoms and diagnoses—including people like themselves, who had experienced symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following rape or sexual abuse. DCFS relied on this discriminatory psychological evaluation to reject large numbers of otherwise-qualified applicants every year, including nearly 20% of the people participating in its MSW Trainee Program.

As a direct result this case, all of this will change. Under the terms of the Parties’ Settlement Agreement, interns participating in the County’s MSW Trainee Program will no longer be subjected to a psychological evaluation at all. For Children’s Social Worker employee applicants, the County’s evaluation protocol will be reviewed and revised by a team of well-qualified experts, who will be tasked with ensuring (among other things) that it is “job related” and “consistent with business necessity,” as required by state law. See California Government Code § 12940(f). The agreement also includes significant monetary relief for the Plaintiffs.

Sean Betouliere, a Senior Staff Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates, applauds this outcome. “Under our settlement, the experts who review the County’s hiring process may recommend that it stop using a psychological evaluation entirely; however, if the County does use a psychological evaluation it will need to be one that is actually tied to success on the job, and that does not exclude applicants just because they have a real or perceived mental health disability.”

More Resources are Needed to Expand Mental Health Courts
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Plaintiff Jane Doe observes that these sorts of policy changes are exactly what she and Plaintiff Roe hoped to accomplish by bringing this case. “We knew that what happened to us wasn’t right, and we brought this case to ensure that no other applicants ever had to go through what we did – and now, thankfully, they won’t.”

Ultimately, Plaintiff Roe notes, this Settlement Agreement should lead to a better, stronger, and more diverse DCFS workforce: “DCFS is chronically understaffed, and yet for years they were turning away a significant percentage of their applicants out of a belief that anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health disabilities disqualified them from the job. Now, hopefully, people who have those disabilities but can still do the job well will actually be hired, and make a positive contribution to both DCFS itself, and the children and families that it serves.

Wendy Musell, founding partner of Law Offices of Wendy Musell PC and co-counsel with Disability Rights Advocates stated, “Employers have no right to refuse to hire qualified candidates because they have at some point had a mental health diagnosis or were a victim of sexual assault. This settlement brings real change to DCFS hiring practices, and will bring the County into legal compliance.”

Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is a leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with all types of disabilities in complex cases aimed at achieving systemic change—including class action and impact cases on behalf of employees with disabilities.

Law Offices of Wendy Musell PC represents employees in obtaining justice in whistleblower, discrimination, harassment and retaliation cases and wage theft. Attorneys of Law Offices of Wendy Musell PC are national leaders in obtaining worker rights.

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