Case: DOJ Investigation of Kaiser Health Plan of Washington

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Case Summary

This investigation concerned allegations of discrimination based on disability within Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington (KFHPW) for repeatedly failing to provide interpreters to individuals who are deaf or deaf-blind. Around May 2017, several individuals who were either deaf or deaf-blind lodged complaints with the US Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Western District of Washington, a division of the Department of Justice (DOJ). These complaints accused KFHPW of contravening the Americ…

This investigation concerned allegations of discrimination based on disability within Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington (KFHPW) for repeatedly failing to provide interpreters to individuals who are deaf or deaf-blind. Around May 2017, several individuals who were either deaf or deaf-blind lodged complaints with the US Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the Western District of Washington, a division of the Department of Justice (DOJ). These complaints accused KFHPW of contravening the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by neglecting to furnish necessary sign language or tactile interpreters during medical appointments across various facilities. An additional grievance, filed in February 2018 by another deaf individual, cited a similar omission of a sign language interpreter during a pre-surgical consultation. Prompted by these allegations, the DOJ embarked on an investigation that culminated in a settlement agreement aiming to rectify these issues without resorting to litigation.

The DOJ, authorized to investigate violations of Title III of the ADA, confirmed through its investigation that the complainants qualified as individuals with disabilities under the ADA. Further, it was established that KFHPW, as a public accommodation, was obligated to provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication, a mandate it failed to meet on numerous occasions. Between May 15, 2014, and May 31, 2018, KFHPW consistently failed to fulfill requests for sign language interpreters, adversely affecting patients’ ability to access timely and appropriate medical care. This led to a determination that KFHPW had engaged in a pattern or practice of violating the ADA by not providing the necessary auxiliary aids and services for effective communication.

On October 15, 2021, the DOJ announced that it had reached a settlement agreement. To rectify the issues and improve compliance in the future, it laid out the responsibilities of KFHPW in assessing and meeting the communication needs of patients and companions who are deaf, deaf-blind, or hard of hearing, including the development of comprehensive policies and procedures for the prompt provision of auxiliary aids and services. 

Moreover, the agreement specified measures for equitable relief to prevent future discrimination. It mandated extensive training for KFHPW personnel on effective communication and the utilization of auxiliary aids and services. This training aimed to equip medical staff with the knowledge and skills necessary to uphold the dignity and respect of all patients and companions requiring auxiliary aids and services, while also prohibiting discrimination, retaliation, and coercion against individuals seeking or utilizing these services.

In addition to ensuring equitable relief, the agreement required KFHPW to provide monetary compensation to aggrieved individuals. This included a payment of $85,000 to the DOJ to vindicate the public interest and the establishment of a $1,000,000 compensation fund for eligible individuals affected by KFHPW’s failures. The administration of this fund, detailed within the agreement, outlined a thorough process for identifying eligible individuals, assessing harm, and distributing compensation to those adversely affected by the lack of necessary auxiliary aids and services.

The settlement agreement, enforced over two years from its effective date, included provisions for the DOJ to review KFHPW’s compliance and, if necessary, enforce the agreement’s terms through civil action. KFHPW agreed to submit a Compliance Report to the USAO every six months throughout the agreement, detailing its adherence to the settlement terms and including relevant data. The investigation is now closed.

Summary Authors

(4/6/2024)

(4/6/2024)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Settlement Agreement between the United States of America and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington

Oct. 15, 2021

Oct. 15, 2021

Settlement Agreement

Docket

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Washington

Case Type(s):

Disability Rights

Key Dates

Closing Date: Oct. 15, 2023

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

The U.S. Attorney's Office (USAO) for the Western District of Washington, operating under the Department of Justice (DOJ), conducting an investigation into Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington for ADA violations, leading to a settlement agreement to address and rectify disability discrimination allegations.

Plaintiff Type(s):

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington, Private Entity/Person

Defendant Type(s):

Insurer

Facility Type(s):

Non-government for-profit

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.

Available Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Damages

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Form of Settlement:

Private Settlement Agreement

Content of Injunction:

Discrimination Prohibition

Develop anti-discrimination policy

Provide antidiscrimination training

Reporting

Monitoring

Training

Amount Defendant Pays: $1,085,000.00

Order Duration: 2021 - 2023

Issues

General/Misc.:

Access to public accommodations - privately owned

Pattern or Practice

Disability and Disability Rights:

Hearing impairment

Visual impairment

Discrimination Basis:

Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)

Discrimination Area:

Medical Exam / Inquiry

Medical/Mental Health Care:

Medical care, general

Medical care, unspecified