A Civil Right to be Free from Discrimination
Updated: Feb 28, 2020
By Jonathan Neidorf (Assistant to the TFC Board)
The latest attempt to bring attention to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) took place in Washington, D.C. on November 15. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hosted a day-long briefing to examine the impact of the exemption on the lives of people with disabilities. In our opinion, the speakers invited to participate did not adequately represent the strong push in favor of preserving 14(c). Too often, these important opportunities for dialogue exclude the perspective to preserve employment options for people with profound intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).
Aside from one panelist—Kate McSweeney representing our allies at ACCSES—the only other opportunity to hear arguments in favor of 14(c) was during an hour of public comment. The hour was more evenly split in opinions for and against 14(c). One commenter was TFC’s pro bono legal counsel, Christopher Lowther of the law firm Covington & Burling. Lowther pointed out that in many states where 14(c) is limited or eliminated altogether, it often does not lead to increased employment opportunities, which particularly impact people I/DD with the highest needs.
While the briefing itself did not give a fairly represent the strong public push to preserve employment choices under 14(c), the Commission accepted comments via email for a month following the briefing. We would like to thank all of our members who stepped up to weigh in on this crucial debate. We are hoping the Commission will eventually release information on all the comments submitted.
In order to maintain awareness of the benefits 14(c) provides, TFC once again arranged meetings on Capitol Hill to offer a different perspective and urge the safeguarding of employment choices. In meetings with congressional representatives and senior staff members, we discussed crucial elements of 14(c), like its interdependence with non-employment support services.
Pictured: Clockwise from top left – Kasia Grzelkowski, President & CEO VersAbility Resources; US Representative Bobby Scott, Chairman House Committee on Education and Labor; Bob Brown, President & CEO Opportunity Village, President Together For Choice; Barb LeDuc, President & CEO – Opportunities, Inc.; Carol Carr, President & CEO – Achieve Human Services, President National Counsel of SourceAmerica Employers; Phoebe Ball, Disability Council House Committee on Education and Labor; Tracy Brown-May- Director of Advocacy and Government Relations- Opportunity Village, Secretary Together for Choice.
Amidst arguments both for and against 14(c), there is a lack of a substantial body of empirical research demonstrating the impact of the provision versus its elimination. TFC believes, as do many opposing advocates including Rep. Bobby Scott (VA), that the country is in need of an evidence-based examination on this topic to inform a best possible solution. We are encouraged by the possibility of a Government Accountability Office study to start offering answers and hope to see the study come to fruition in the near future.
It is essential we expand opportunities for people to engage in productive activity, not restrict opportunities. The TFC team will host the next round of meetings to continue these discussions with Congress in early 2020. This is an important conversation affecting far too many Americans with significant I/DD, and we are proud to be a leader in protecting their rights and choices.