The United States Department of Justice announced a settlement agreement with Fort Bend County to improve access to court for people with limited English proficiency (LEP), resolving an investigation into allegations that the county courts’ requirements discriminated against LEP people.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, Fort Bend County courts were alleged to have discriminated against LEP court users based on their national origin and retaliated against a complainant, both in violation of Title VI, which prohibits race, color or national origin discrimination by recipients of federal financial assistance.
Under the settlement agreement, Fort Bend County agreed to pay damages to an LEP court user for court costs and to an individual who alleged retaliation.
According to the Office of Public Affairs, the Justice Department’s investigation found language barriers create a challenge for LEP people to meaningfully access the court system.
As an example, the press release states, “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.”
Under the settlement agreement, Fort Bend County courts will provide interpreter services at no cost to LEP individuals in civil and criminal cases in its courts.
Additionally, the courts will review its language access plans over the next year and develop mandatory Title VI training, provide Title VI retaliation training and issue public notices that explain the Title VI nondiscrimination policy and complaint process in non-English languages, the press release states.