Success Academy Pays $2.4 million in Disability Discrimination Case

March 18, 2021

Disability Justice, Education, Lawton v. Success Academy Charter Schools, News

NYLPI’s disability discrimination case for families of five young children has yielded a federal court judgment of more than $2.4 million and establishes precedent for reimbursing expert fees under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. 

The lawsuit was resolved by Senior United Stated District Court Judge Frederic Block’s March 11, 2021, judgment, ending litigation over the charter school network’s discriminatory practices designed to drive out students with disabilities through enforcement of unreasonably harsh disciplinary policies. Success Academy did not provide appropriate accommodations, and frequently dismissed the students prior to the conclusion of the school day – often for behaviors like fidgeting and pouting. Success Academy also threatened to call child welfare authorities to investigate the children’s families and sent one child to a hospital psychiatric unit. The New York Times detailed these discriminatory practices and uncovered the now infamous “Got to Go” list, which targeted specific students to push out, including the five child plaintiffs and kindergarteners. Each of the five families eventually removed their child from the Success Academy network. 

In addition to ordering Success Academy to pay over $2.4 million, the judgment established precedent as the first time a court in the Second Circuit recognized that prevailing parties in disability discrimination cases brought under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act are entitled to reimbursement of expert fees, as reasoned in Judge Block’s accompanying decision. While several courts in other jurisdictions had permitted recovery of fees under Section 504, this decision provides a previously unavailable depth of reasoning for such fee shifting, bringing new clarity to this critical area of law which, if left unresolved, risked causing a chilling effect on disability discrimination cases. Expert testimony, typically costly, is often necessary to assess damages sustained by plaintiffs in disability discrimination cases. Civil rights attorneys can now use this decision to recoup expert fees incurred in successful litigation. 

Read more about the judgment through the following coverage in Law Fuel, General Counsel News, JD Supra, In the Public Interest, and by New York Times NYC education reporter Eliza Shapiro.

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