Deaf Girl Scout Has Bias Case, 7th Circuit Finds

     CHICAGO (CN) – The move by the Girl Scouts to stop providing deaf members with sign-language interpreters supports disability-discrimination claims, the 7th Circuit ruled.
     Megan Runnion, now 15 years old, is deaf. She was able to participate in Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana for many years, however, because the organization provided a sign-language interpreter.
     When the Girl Scouts stopped providing interpreters and Megan’s mother complained, Megan’s entire troop was disbanded.
     The Runnions in turn filed suit, alleging violations of the Rehabilitation Act, which provides that no disabled individual shall be excluded from a program receiving federal funding on the basis of his or her disability.
     Though a federal judge ruled that the Girl Scouts are not subject to the Rehabilitation Act, the 7th Circuit reversed Friday.
     “Megan’s proposed amended complaint alleges plausibly that the Girl Scouts are a private organization principally engaged in the business of providing the services found in § 794(b)(3)(A)(ii),” which include education, health care, housing, social services, or parks and recreation, Judge David Hamilton wrote for the three-judge panel.
     Congress may have exempted private membership organizations from similar statutes, but the Rehabilitation Act does not include any such explicit exemption for private entities, according to the ruling.
     “Beyond merely alleging that the Girl Scouts received federal funds and were engaged in some of those activities as their principal business activities, which would have been sufficient for pleading purposes, the proposed amended complaint went much further,” Hamilton said.
     “Megan’s complaint cites numerous instances in which the defendant has characterized itself and its programs as educational.”
     The court was careful to note that the appeal does not address whether the Girl Scouts must supply sign-language interpretation if the Rehabilitation Act applies to the organization.
     Rather, “the disputed issue on the merits of this appeal is whether Megan alleged sufficiently that the activities from which she was excluded are covered under the Rehabilitation Act by virtue of the Girl Scouts receiving federal funding,” Hamilton wrote.
     The Chicago-based appeals court found that the Rehabilitation Act plausibly applies to the Girl Scouts organization, and Megan’s case may proceed.

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