A Morrison & Foerster pro bono team led by litigation partner Ryan Malloy and senior of counsel Charles Barquist, in collaboration with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Public Counsel, and the Disability Rights Legal Center, scored a major victory for people with mental disabilities in Los Angeles County who rely on the County’s General Relief (GR) welfare program to survive. The GR program provides $221 a month to County residents with no other means of support. The team’s efforts led the County’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) to make the GR program more accessible to people with mental disabilities.
In November 2015, MoFo and its co-counsel firms filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against DPSS in the Central District of California on behalf of two organizations that assist people with mental disabilities, Housing Works and Independent Living Center of Southern California. The Complaint alleged that DPSS’s GR application process violated anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, by failing to provide reasonable accommodations to people with mental disabilities. The Complaint explained, for example, that mentally disabled GR applicants “typically must complete a long application packet and spend long hours, if not several days, in loud, crowded, and chaotic DPSS offices,” presenting a “daunting and insurmountable barrier” to securing GR benefits.
After years of litigation and pre-litigation discussions, DPSS improved its GR operations in several important ways. These improvements include overall simplification of the application process, implementation of a remote application process, same-day mental-health assessments by trained professionals, and better processes for allowing applicants to request accommodations.
The Court awarded the team substantial attorneys’ fees for its efforts. MoFo donated the bulk of the fees to Housing Works, Independent Living Center, and its co-counsel firms and earmarked the rest for its pro bono program.