The Justice Department announced a settlement agreement with Fort Bend County (FBC) to improve access to court for people with limited English proficiency (LEP).
This agreement resolves a Justice Department investigation into allegations that FBC courts discriminated against LEP court users based on their national origin and retaliated against a complainant, both in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI prohibits race, color or national origin discrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance, such as FBC. The department’s investigation uncovered language barriers that make it difficult for LEP people to meaningfully access the court system. These barriers included requirements that LEP criminal defendants use a bilingual attorney instead of a qualified interpreter in plea proceedings, and policies that resulted in higher court costs for LEP parents in child custody cases.
“People with limited English proficiency can suffer the loss of their children, homes, and fundamental rights when they face language barriers that deny meaningful access to our judicial system,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for the Civil Rights Division. “The Civil Rights Division will continue fighting to ensure that courts remove barriers that deny people access to equal justice. I commend Fort Bend County for taking actions necessary to ensure language access for court users in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”
“Fort Bend is one of the most diverse counties in our District,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Mark Donnelly for the Southern District of Texas. “This agreement will ensure everyone has access to our courts irrespective of national origin or limited English proficiency.”
Under the agreement, FBC will provide interpreter services at no cost to LEP individuals in civil and criminal cases in FBC courts. FBC courts will also review its language access plans over the next year, develop mandatory Title VI training for FBC courts, provide Title VI retaliation training and issue public notices that explain the Title VI nondiscrimination policy and complaint process in non-English languages. The department will monitor these and other requirements for two years. FBC also agreed to pay damages to an LEP court user for court costs and to an individual who alleged retaliation.
The enforcement of Title VI is a top priority of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt, and information about limited English proficiency and Title VI is available at www.lep.gov. Members of the public may report possible civil rights violations at https://civilrights.justice.gov/report/.