Disability Law

Private companies in Oregon jails must follow state anti-bias law, top state court rules

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The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that private contractors providing services in the state’s prisons are subject to the state law barring discrimination against those with disabilities.

The state supreme court ruled 5-2 June 3 in response to a certified question by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco.

The plaintiff, Andrew Abraham, was a diabetic deaf man who prefers to communicate through American Sign Language. He alleges that because no interpreter was provided, he was incorrectly placed on suicide watch while in the Clackamas County Jail in Oregon and denied meals and access to insulin.

Abraham’s lawsuit contended that the prison health provider, Corizon Health Inc., had violated the Oregon law banning disability discrimination in places of public accommodation. The 9th Circuit asked the Oregon Supreme Court whether a private contractor providing health care services in the county jail is a place of public accommodation within the meaning of the Oregon disability law.

The Oregon Supreme Court said the answer to the question is yes.

Corizon Health had argued that it was not a place of public accommodation because jail services for prisoners are not held out as open or offered to the general public or any subset of the general public.

The Oregon Supreme Court said it didn’t “see the answer as quite that straightforward.”

Although Corizon Health “limits its services to people who are in custody in the Clackamas County Jail, defendant does not, at least as alleged in the complaint, impose any additional selective criteria,” the Oregon Supreme Court said. “We therefore conclude that it offers those services to the public” within the meaning of the law.

The Oregonian reports that Abraham died at age 55 last year. He had already been released and sentenced to time served. The Associated Press also had coverage of the decision.

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