The D.C. Department of Human Services will do more to help clients who don’t speak English after settling a lawsuit filed by a Spanish-speaking immigrant allegedly denied prenatal care while seven months pregnant, the D.C. attorney general said Friday.
The federal lawsuit, filed last year in D.C. District Court by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, detailed the case of Minerva Nolasco, a Latin American woman who said she was denied a Spanish-speaking interpreter during several DHS visits after her health insurance was mistakenly canceled.
Nolasco, who was experiencing pain in her abdomen, eventually learned of the cancellation in a letter written half in English and half in Spanish, the lawsuit said.
It also included the allegations of Maria Amaya Torres, a woman with two children who said her food stamps were mistakenly cut from $220 per month to $87 per month after she could not secure a DHS interpreter.
Such behavior ran afoul of a 2004 D.C. law that mandated access to interpreters, the women claimed.
In the settlement, the city agreed to create an ombudsman for DHS service centers that is “an experienced, multilingual DHS employee who will be available to personally assist DHS customers with language access,” according to a statement from the D.C. attorney general.
The city will also create a “language access customer advisory group” with community representatives, the settlement said, to monitor progress.
“This settlement is good news for our city, because it enhances the Department of Human Services’ ability to serve all District residents regardless of their primary language,” Attorney General Karl A. Racine said in a statement. “Our office worked closely with DHS Director Laura Green Zeilinger and senior members of her staff, and with attorneys representing the plaintiffs, to achieve a prompt and productive settlement of this litigation.”
Steve Hollman, an attorney for the women, praised the agreement.
“The District is an international city with many different dialects represented among residents, and we have the technology available to meet the demand,” he said. “We should be able to provide appropriate language assistance. At the end of the day, that’s what the case was about.”