EFE Sues Lambs Farm
EFE Applauds CTA
Judge Denies Intervention
Pine Lawn Closing
EFE Fact Sheets
EFE's Community of Funders
Someone You Should Know
20th Anniversary Event Recap
Inside the EFE Site
With 700 attorneys in nine U.S. offices, Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal serves many of the world's largest and best-known businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals, and is recognized as one of the leading law firms in the country. The firm also has a strong reputation and history of providing pro bono assistance. Demonstrating its commitment to pro bono service, Sonnenschein has an attorney in its Chicago office, Terrance Norton, who works full-time as the pro bono partner, overseeing the firm's national pro bono program.
Over the years, Equip for Equality has been very fortunate to partner with Sonnenschein on a variety of pro bono projects, greatly expanding Equip for Equality's ability to serve people with disabilities. In recognition of the firm's pro bono efforts, Sonnenschein received Equip for Equality's Pro Bono Service Award in 1998.
Currently, the firm is co-counseling with Equip for Equality and several other advocacy organizations in a federal class action lawsuit brought against Illinois state officials for the failure to provide sufficient community services to people with developmental disabilities. Partner John Grossbart is the lead attorney from Sonnenschein on the case, working along with Sonnenschein attorneys Anne Nicholson Weber and Kendra Kekelis Hartman.
"We are thrilled to be partnering with Sonnenschein on this important case and appreciate the extensive resources the firm has dedicated," says Barry Taylor, EFE Legal Advocacy Director. "The Sonnenschein attorneys have outstanding litigation expertise, along with a commitment to making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities."
Sonnenschein Partner Harold Hirshman has also been a great friend to Equip for Equality. In 1998, he represented the organization in a dispute with the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS). Equip for Equality was engaged in a monitoring project on the use of physical restraints in the state-operated mental health centers, and IDHS refused to provide certain records. Hirshman successfully advocated for the issuance of a preliminary injunction ordering IDHS to produce the requested records. As a result of Hirshman's efforts, Equip for Equality was able to successfully complete the project and issue its report.
More recently, Hirshman, in conjunction with Sonnenschein attorney Reece Hirsh, has provided significant guidance related to the implications of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This assistance includes a well-reasoned legal opinion that HIPAA does not adversely affect Equip for Equality's broad statutory access authority, a review of public reports to ensure compliance with HIPAA's confidentiality mandates, and ongoing legal updates related to HIPAA.
Sonnenschein has used its pro bono resources in many other contexts where those served are in great need but lack financial resources. In August 2005, the firm founded Legacy Charter School in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago, which the firm supports financially and through donation of services. The firm has also provided legal assistance to the Breaking Ground Foundation in its successful efforts to provide housing in that same neighborhood. "Sonnenschein's management is very serious about finding ways to use its resources for those in need, and we greatly value the opportunity of working with Equip for Equality on behalf of the people with disabilities," says Norton.
"We are extremely grateful for the outstanding pro bono assistance Sonnenschein has provided to Equip for Equality," says Zena Naiditch, EFE President and CEO. "Given the tremendous need for legal representation of people with disabilities, we hope other firms will follow Sonnenschein's example.
Equip for Equality and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society filed an amicus (friend of the court) brief with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Dock Timmons, a 30-year employee of General Motors. Mark DeBofsky of the Chicago law firm Daley, DeBofsky and Bryant, represents Timmons. In his complaint, Timmons alleges that GM violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by placing him on disability leave because of the company's irrational and incorrect assumptions about his disability of multiple sclerosis. Specifically, GM allegedly believed that Timmons was unable to drive safely due to his disability and, therefore, was not qualified to do the job.
The trial court entered judgment in favor of GM, and Timmons appealed this decision to the 7th Circuit. Equip for Equality and the National MS Society's brief makes two arguments: 1. There was sufficient evidence to conclude that Timmons was qualified and did not pose a direct threat; and 2. GM did not explore reasonable accommodations or engage in the interactive process to reduce or eliminate any alleged direct threat. Senior Attorney Alan Goldstein was the lead attorney on the brief for Equip for Equality, with assistance by Legal Advocacy Director Barry Taylor and Senior Counsel Karen Ward.
After Susan (not her real name) passed the examination to be a licensed clinical social worker in Illinois, she was called before the Character and Fitness Committee of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). An ambiguously worded question on the application led her to reveal that she had been treated for bipolar disorder. The illness was under control with medication and, in any event, did not interfere in any way with her ability to function safely as a social worker. Nevertheless, with no evidence that Susan would be unsafe in any way, the committee demanded that Susan agree to a period of "probation" for two years, during which she would be required to undergo treatment and to file with the board periodic reports regarding her treatment, or be denied a license.
Believing she had no choice, Susan signed a consent form. She did not understand that this probation would be officially characterized as "discipline." Worse, she did not know that the department would post her name on its public website, in which it would publicly reveal that she was under a two-year "disciplinary" probation for the infraction of having been "diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder." Angry and humiliated, and unable to secure employment due to potential employers' routine license status checks to the department's website, Susan contacted Equip for Equality.
Senior Counsel Karen Ward advised IDFPR that it was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and demanded that steps be taken immediately to remove the information from the website and to rescind the disciplinary probation. IDFPR removed the offending information from its website, and the disciplinary probation was withdrawn entirely. Susan is now listed on the IDFPR website only as a licensed clinical social worker. But the harm done to her reputation, and the humiliation she suffered, remain. Equip for Equality is reviewing further options for Susan and intends to pursue changes in procedures and policies at the IDFPR that target and unlawfully discriminate against those with mental illness and other disabilities.
Program Info: Legal Advocacy Program
Provides information and advice to individuals to enable them to advocate on their own behalf or on behalf of a family
member; provides direct representation in negotiations, administrative hearings and federal and state courts. Priority is given
to systemic and high-impact cases that will benefit the larger disability community.
Also provides referrals to other resources.