Disabilities Rights Groups file Harris v. Quinn Amicus Brief

Benjamin Sachs

Benjamin Sachs is the Kestnbaum Professor of Labor and Industry at Harvard Law School and a leading expert in the field of labor law and labor relations. He is also faculty director of the Center for Labor and a Just Economy. Professor Sachs teaches courses in labor law, employment law, and law and social change, and his writing focuses on union organizing and unions in American politics. Prior to joining the Harvard faculty in 2008, Professor Sachs was the Joseph Goldstein Fellow at Yale Law School.  From 2002-2006, he served as Assistant General Counsel of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Washington, D.C.  Professor Sachs graduated from Yale Law School in 1998, and served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. His writing has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the Yale Law Journal, the Columbia Law Review, the New York Times and elsewhere.  Professor Sachs received the Yale Law School teaching award in 2007 and in 2013 received the Sacks-Freund Award for Teaching Excellence at Harvard Law School.  He can be reached at [email protected].

Here is the brief for the American Association of People with Disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, the National Council on Aging, and Other Disability and Senior Organizations as Amici Curiae in support of Respondents in Harris v. Quinn.  The summary of argument is as follows:

Petitioners argue that personal assistants who provide in-home services to persons with disabilities under Illinois’s Medicaid program are not “true public employees,” because the individual consumers retain the power to hire, fire, and supervise the assistants who provide services to them personally. That argument misconstrues the relationship between personal assistants, individuals with disabilities, and the state under the Illinois Medicaid program. Under that program, the state and the individual consumer share the responsibilities of an employer. The consumer has the power to choose the individual who will provide her services and to supervise that individual on a day-to-day basis, while the state retains the power to set workforce-wide terms and conditions of employment.

This sharing of responsibilities directly responds to the concerns of people with disabilities. The American disability rights movement is based on a philosophy of independent living. That philosophy supports policies that ensure that people with disabilities have the opportunity to participate fully in society and control the day-to-day and minute-to-minute aspects of their lives. Consumer-controlled personal assistance services, in which individuals with disabilities hire, fire, and direct the individuals who provide services to them, are a key means of making the philosophy of independent living a reality and preventing unnecessary institutionalization. Responding to the urgings of disability rights activists, changes in federal funding rules, and this Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. ex rel. Zimring, 527 U.S. 581 (1999), states have increasingly provided for consumer-controlled personal assistance services under their Medicaid programs.

Although disability rights activists urged states to provide consumer-controlled personal assistance services – services that granted to individuals with disabilities key aspects of the employer role – they recognized that there are certain aspects of the employment relationship that individual consumers are unlikely to be in a position to manage. States like Illinois have accordingly retained authority over those systemic terms and conditions of employment, and they have appropriately authorized personal assistants to bargain collectively with the state itself over them. Collective bargaining over those systemic terms and conditions of employment has served the interests and independence of individuals with disabilities by helping to promote a stable personal assistant workforce. A ruling that declared Illinois’s arrangement unconstitutional would disserve individuals with disabilities and undermine efforts to achieve the goals of independent living.

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