The United States, Ohio and some local governments protect people from discrimination based on “protected classes.” These categories include race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), language, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status. The law does not protect people from mean, unprofessional, or uncivil behavior, if it’s not discriminatory in nature. Some laws provide specific protections, such as the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. See below for more specific information.
You Have The Right to an Interpreter
You have the right to an interpreter in your native language if you have Limited English Proficiency, which means that you are not fluent in English. Many agencies and organizations are required to provide Limited English Proficient individuals with interpreters.
For a list of agencies that must provide interpreters, instructions on how to request an interpreter, and what you can do if you are denied an interpreter, click on the link below for a brochure written in many languages: You Have The Right to an Interpreter
Are You Familiar With the Optional Private Record Update Service?
Ohio law provides the opportunity for some people who were convicted of a crime to seal their record. Sealing a record means information about the conviction is removed from public databases and cannot generally be viewed by landlords or employers in most circumstances.
Some employers and landlords get their background checks directly from government agencies, but most use private companies. Some private background check companies could take up to a year to remove your record from their database. During the delay, your record could be made available to potential employers, landlords, or others who purchase a private background check on you.
In the most recent Ohio budget bill, new laws were passed that created a new service to address this issue. Ohio has contracted with a company that will tell private background check companies to promptly remove your sealed records from their private databases. This service does not affect how your record is treated by government agencies; it only affects private background information.
How the Process Works
When you file the application to seal your record at the clerk of court, you should be given the option to pay an additional $45 for this service. The extra $45 fee for this service is separate from the $50 filing fee and is payable to the clerk when you apply to seal your records. A Poverty Affidavit cannot be used to waive the extra $45 fee. When you file to seal your records, you must either pay the extra $45 fee or opt out of the service.
If your request to seal a record is granted and you have paid the extra $45, then the court will notify the Law Firm of Higbee & Associates who will instruct private background check companies to promptly remove your sealed record from all future background check reports. If your request to seal a record is denied, then the extra $45 fee for this service is returned to you by the court.
Things to Be Aware of
- This service will not affect background checks ordered from government agencies.
- This service can more quickly remove your sealed record from private databases reducing the chance that a sealed record will get reported to a prospective landlord or employer.
- Even if you pay for this service, the courts will not guarantee that every record of your case will be completely removed from all private background check companies.
If you want to apply to seal a misdemeanor or juvenile record in Cuyahoga County, or any criminal record in Ashtabula, Geauga, Lake, or Lorain Counties, call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help from Legal Aid. If you want to apply to seal a felony in Cuyahoga County, contact the Public Defender at 216-443-7223.
This article was written by Gerry Meader and appeared in The Alert: Volume 34, Issue 2.
How can I enforce my rights if I have been discriminated against based on LGBTQ status?
In Ohio, 20 cities have laws protecting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (“LGBTQ”) from discrimination. See http://www.equalityohio.org/city-map/. In many instances, the local ordinances create a board or committee charged with hearing complaints under the law. Unfortunately, the process for filing a complaint and addressing discrimination is not always clear.
In February 2016, the ACLU of Ohio learned about discrimination two transgender women faced at a store in Cleveland. The women were protected under Cleveland’s anti-discrimination ordinance. Elizabeth Bonham, a Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Ohio, filed a complaint with the Fair Housing Board, as provided in the ordinance. The Fair Housing Board issued its findings in favor of the women on December 12, 2016.
People who experience discrimination based on LGBTQ status in Cleveland, whether in housing or in public accommodations, can enforce their rights through filing a complaint with the Fair Housing Board. For information about the process, call the Fair Housing Board at 216.664.4529. In other cities that have passed anti-discrimination or human rights ordinances protecting the LGBTQ community, individuals have to contact each city’s law department to learn the appropriate process for filing a complaint.
The ACLU of Ohio has provided trainings on, and continues to provide information on, LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinances, including enforcement options. For more information visit http://www.acluohio.org/archives/blog-posts/lgbt-advocacy-in-real-time or call the ACLU of Ohio at 216.472.2200. For information on how to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission contact Equality Ohio at 216.224.0400 or visit http://www.equalityohio.org/ehea/.
This article was written by Chloe Sudduth and appeared in The Alert: Volume 34, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
 See City of Cleveland, Code of Ordinances, Part Six, Title V – Discrimination, available at http://www.clevelandcitycouncil.org/legislation-laws/charter-codified-ordinances.
 ACLU case Doe vs. Family Dollar, Inc. and CityWide Protection (Administrative Complaint): http://www.acluohio.org/archives/cases/doe-v-family-dollar-inc-and-citywide-protection
What are my Rights during Contact with Police or Immigration Agent?
Everyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status, has certain rights when interacting with the police and immigration agents. The rights include the right to remain silent, the right NOT to answer questions about immigration status, the right to refuse to sign any papers without first consulting an attorney, and the right to seek help from a lawyer.
EXCEPT: All persons (citizens and noncitizens) have limited rights when crossing the border and can be subject to questioning and searches. See further guidance at https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/176/~/cbp-search-authority.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has put together an explanation of these rights and others related to what to do if contacted by a police officer or immigration agent. The information published by the ACLU is available in several languages and is available by clicking here.
Can my application for housing be denied because I have a criminal record?
Housing providers can no longer automatically deny applications for housing based on a person having a criminal record. On April 4, 2016, the United Stated Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a decision saying that such practices can be discriminatory. This change should help more families get the housing that they need.
The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. HUD observed that nearly one-third of all people living in the US have a criminal record. HUD observed that African Americans and Hispanic Americans are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at higher rates than the general population. Further, HUD found that many landlords will not allow people to rent if they have a criminal record-sometimes based only on an arrest record.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on: race or color; religion; national origin; familial status or age—includes families with children under the age of 18 and pregnant women; disability or handicap, or sex. HUD decided that using blanket rules that exclude tenants with criminal records has a discriminatory effect. Thus, HUD has decided that the discriminatory effect can violate Fair Housing Laws. A recent U. S. Supreme Court opinion supports this position, stating that a rule with a discriminatory effect (called “disparate impact”) can violate the Fair Housing Laws even if the landlord did not intend to discriminate.
Based on HUD’s decision, housing providers make individualized determinations about whether a person’s criminal record may disqualify him or her for housing, and cannot use blanket exclusions. A person denied admission to federally subsidized housing based on a criminal record should request a hearing to challenge the decision. People can also call Legal Aid to apply for help at 1-888-817-3777.
By Maria Smith
What rights do college students with disabilities have?
College students with a disability have certain rights as they continue with their education after high school. It is important to know that if you had an IEP (Individualized Education Program) in high school, your IEP does not go with you to college. Instead of providing special education to students with disabilities, colleges must make sure that students with disabilities are treated fairly.
Colleges cannot discriminate against students with disabilities. There are federal and state laws that stop schools from doing this. These laws protect students with disabilities from being denied admission to a school because of a disability or being discriminated against by the school they attend.
Once a student with a disability starts college, these schools must provide academic accommodations and support based on the student’s needs. Some examples of this help may include books on tape, note takers, readers, extra time for tests, or special computer tools. However, these schools do not have to provide students with personal equipment such as wheelchairs.
The steps a student must take to get these services depends on the school. First, a student must tell the school about the disability if requesting services. Contact the school’s office for students with disabilities, or ask an adviser where to start.
Students who experience discrimination because of a disability should contact the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The phone number in Ohio is 216-522-4970. Complaints can also be filled out online at: http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/complaintintro.html
This article was written by Katie Feldman and appeared in The Alert: Volume 32, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
Who does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that guarantees everyone has the same opportunity to enjoy and participate in American life. A person with a disability under the law is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities. Life activities include learning, working, self care, performing manual tasks, walking, hearing and many more. How long a person’s impairment lasts is a factor used to decide if a person is considered disabled under the ADA. Impairments that last only for a short period of time are typically not covered, although they may be covered if very severe. A person may be protected under this law based on an existing disability, a record of a disability, or because she is perceived by others as having a disability.
The ADA protects people with disabilities in the work place. An employer must provide a qualified applicant or employee with the full range of employment opportunities. For example, the employer must provide recruitment, hiring, promotion, training, pay, and the same social activities to all employees including those with disabilities. An employer is not permitted to ask about an individual’s disability, severity, and treatment. An employer may ask about an applicant’s ability to do specific job functions. An employer may be required under the ADA to accommodate an employee who has a disability by modifying equipment or schedules. The ADA requires employers to post a notice that explains the law and its requirements.
The ADA protects people with disabilities in public accommodations. Examples of public accommodations include doctor’s offices, theaters, hotels, restaurants and retail stores. Existing facilities must ensure that individuals are not excluded so long as there is not an undue hardship on the owner. This is accomplished by modifying existing facilities, constructing additional facilities, or relocating to an accessible building. All new construction of places of public accommodations must be accessible. For example, public buildings should provide access for wheelchairs.
Additionally, the ADA protects people with disabilities when they use public transportation like buses or rapid transits. This law also requires the establishment of telephone relay services for individuals who use telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDD’s).
For more information about the ADA, or to file a complaint if you feel there is a violation of the ADA, you may contact the Justice Department at www.ada.gov or 1-800-514-0301 (voice) 1-800 514-0383 (TTY).
This article was written by Davida Dodson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 32, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
What rights do people with disabilities living in subsidized housing have?
The Fair Housing Act (FHA), a federal law, protects people with disabilities from discrimination in housing. Landlords cannot treat tenants with disabilities worse than other tenants because of their disabilities. Also, tenants with mental or physical disabilities can ask for changes to make it easier to live in their units and follow the rules of their leases. These changes are called “reasonable accommodations.” The FHA requires most landlords to provide reasonable accommodations to tenants.
A reasonable accommodation can be any change to management rules, policies, practices or the way services are provided. The reason for the change must relate to the tenant’s disability. An example of an accommodation is permission to have a service animal in an apartment complex that does not allow pets. Another example is providing an assigned parking space for a disabled tenant who cannot walk very far. An accommodation can be requested for almost anything a tenant has to do as part of a lease.
Tenants in subsidized housing must follow many rules. For example, they must prove their income, pass background checks, turn in paperwork, and attend appointments. Tenants with disabilities can request accommodations for any of these rules.
Some examples of accommodations tenants in subsidizing housing
may request are:
• A chance to get back on a waiting list if removed for a reason
related to a disability
• Mail-in recertification if a tenant cannot make it to any
• Reminder letters or copies of letters sent to someone else if a
disability makes it hard for a tenant to remember things
• Not getting evicted if the reason for the eviction is related to
For more information, see https://lasclev.org/accomodations/, or the John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Support Center at http://www.jmls.edu/clinics/fairhousing/resources.php.
If you receive a notice of termination, a 3-day notice or eviction complaint, call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to find out if you are eligible for assistance.
This article was written by Callie Dendrinos and appeared in The Alert: Volume 32, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
What are my rights as a patient?
A patient is anyone who has requested or received health services from care facilities. Care facilities include, but are not limited to: community health centers, hospitals, dental offices, and drug stores, such as CVS. As a patient, you have certain rights related to your care. Some of your rights include the following:
Right to Informed Consent. If you need medical treatment, your doctor must give you necessary information about the treatment, such as possible benefits and risks, to help you make decisions.
Right to Medical Records. Generally, your provider must give you your medical records if you request them. But there may be a process to follow, such as putting your request in writing, and you may have to pay a fee for copies.
Right to Privacy. Your provider must keep all your medical records and other important information, such as your social security number, confidential unless you allow them to release the information. You may want them to release your information, for example, if another doctor needs to see your records. In that case, you would sign a release form to give permission to share your information with a specific person or organization.
Right to Emergency Services. If you need immediate help with a serious health problem, you may seek emergency services from any emergency room location even if you cannot afford it.
Right to Make Decisions. You have the right to agree to or refuse treatment.
Right to Choose End-of-Life Care. You have the right to sign advance directives, called living wills or health care power of attorney. These documents allow you to provide instructions to providers about your health care wishes if you cannot communicate yourself. Care providers must follow your directions in these properly signed documents. More information about advance directives is online at http://lasclev.org/selfhelp-poa-livingwill/.
Right to Safe Health Care Environment. You have the right to be treated with courtesy and respect and to be free from verbal or physical abuse or harassment while in a care setting.
If your rights have been violated, you may have the option to file a complaint at the place where you got treatment. Ask to speak with a patients’ rights advocate or request a copy of the complaint procedure. Also, you may complain to the Office of the Ohio Attorney General. Visit www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov to file a complaint or report patient abuse; or contact the Office at Patient Abuse/Neglect Intake Officer; Office of the Attorney General; 150 E. Gay St., 17th Floor; Columbus, OH 43215; Phone: (800) 282-0515; Fax: 877-527-1305.
This article was written by D’Erra Jackson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
What should I know for dealing with administrative agencies?
Many different administrative agencies are responsible for important parts of our life, such as income, health insurance, and housing. But dealing with the agencies that handle these benefits can be very difficult. The following information will help when trying to solve a problem with an administrative agency.
Some common administrative agencies are the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, public housing authorities, and the Office of Child Support Services. Even though each agency has its own rules, there are some common policies. All administrative agencies:
- Must give written notice when benefits or services are denied, reduced or terminated and tell you the reason for that decision;
- The notice must tell you how to “appeal” or challenge the decision if you disagree with it;
- The notice must tell you how much time you have to request an appeal, and whether or not your benefits will continue while you appeal;
- You have a right to appoint an authorized representative to deal with the administrative agency for you, and each agency usually has a form to fill out if you want to do so;
- Administrative agencies all have complaint or grievance procedures you can use if you have a problem with the agency, and the procedure for each agency should be available online or at the office;
- Most final decisions of administrative agencies can be appealed to court but only AFTER you follow the agency process first.
When dealing with an administrative agency, you can maximize your chances for success and minimize your frustration if you:
- Keep copies of all papers that you give the agency;
- Keep a phone log of all calls you place to the agency, and who you speak with when you call;
- Keep a calendar where you write down important deadlines in your appeal;
- Attend all appointments scheduled with the agency or call at least 24 hours in advance to cancel;
- Respond to all requests from the agency for additional information, and keep a record of what you provide and when you provided it; and
- Give the agency your current phone number and address any time your contact information changes.
While these tips may help you deal directly with administrative agencies, some times you might need help from a lawyer. Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help with denials, reductions, terminations and over-payments of many public benefits.
This article appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
What can I do if my landlord won’t do anything to help with my mental or physical disability?
Sometimes there is a connection between a tenant’s physical or mental disability and a lease violation. When this occurs, the tenant may ask the landlord for a reasonable accommodation that will allow the tenant to keep their housing. A tenant may make this request in connection with an eviction action or at any time before eviction.
Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- using a power of attorney to pay the rent on time,
- having a cleaning service clean the apartment, or
- moving from a one bedroom to a two bedroom apartment fora live-in aide.
Many older people benefit from a companion animal, based on a doctor’s note that the animal helps with depression or other illnesses.
If there is a connection between the health problem and the lease violation, generally the landlord may not evict for the lease violation. The landlord may deny the reasonable accommodation request if:
- it would impose a large financial or administrative burden;
- it would change the nature of the housing provided; or
- it would not eliminate the direct physical threat to the health and safety of other tenants.
These reasonable accommodation rules apply in both private housing and subsidized housing. When a reasonable accommodation is granted, the tenant must then remain in compliance with the lease. A tenant may also make more than one reasonable accommodation request.
A tenant may also request a reasonable modification to their rental dwelling or to common areas of the building such as wheelchair accessible entryways to both dwelling units and common areas.
If a tenant needs a modification in order to use the apartment or house, the landlord must allow the modification if it is reasonable. In private housing (including section 8 voucher housing), the tenant is required to pay for the modification if it is reasonable.
Tenants who have either a physical or mental disability should consider using a request for reasonable accommodation or modification to obtain or keep affordable housing.
I have an administrative hearing scheduled but do not speak English. What are my rights?
Federal law states that you have the right to an interpreter in an administrative hearing if you are a person with limited English proficiency (LEP). This means that you do not speak, read, write, or understand English fluently. Additionally, LEP individuals who are not involved in the administrative hearing, but who need to be there, like a parent or guardian, also have the right to an interpreter. Your family members or children should not be used instead of a qualified interpreter from the agency/organization. LEP individuals have the right to participate in administrative hearings in the same way as someone who speaks and understands English fluently.
Examples of agencies that must provide you with an interpreter: courts; U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services; Social Security; Veterans Administration; IRS; Ohio Department of Jobs & Family Services (Unemployment Compensation & welfare office); Medicaid office; Bureau of Motor Vehicles; public housing agencies; and public and charter/community schools.
Asking for an interpreter:
- Ask an employee of the court, agency, or organization for an interpreter.
- If the person you ask says no: ask for a supervisor, customer service representative, or ombudsman (person who hears complaints).
What to do if you do not receive an interpreter:
- If you still do not receive an interpreter, you may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
- You can file a complaint by either sending a letter or using DOJ’s complaint form. The form is on DOJ’s website. You can do this in either English or your first language.
- The complaint should explain when and how the agency did not give you an interpreter or how they did not speak to you in a language you can understand.
- Please keep a copy of the complaint for your records.
- The letter or form should be sent to:
- DOJ Website: http://www.justice.gov/crt/complaint/
- DOJ Phone: 1 – (888) 848-5306
- DOJ will respond to you with a letter or phone call.
This article was written by Legal Aid Senior Attorney Megan Sprecher & Volunteer Attorney Jessica Baaklini appeared in The Alert: Volume 30, Issue 3. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
I was denied public housing because of my criminal record. Can I appeal the decision?
What to Do When a Landlord Denies Public Housing Based on a Criminal Record
When you apply for Section 8 or public housing, you may be asked whether you or a family member have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.
If is the answer is yes, then the landlord may deny your application. But you may still qualify for the housing. If you want to challenge the denial, you need to ask for an informal appeal right away. The number of days you are given will be stated in the rejection letter. You count the number of days from the date in the letter.
You will need to write a short letter to ask for a meeting about the denial. Take your letter to the landlord’s office and ask the receptionist to date-stamp a copy of your request for a meeting. Keep the stamped copy. In the letter, you should ask for:
- a copy of your application
- the information used to deny your application
- a copy of the Tenant Selection Plan (TSP)
The TSP will tell you how long the criminal conviction will count against you. Federal law requires the time to be reasonable. The time may count either from the date you were convicted or from when you completed your sentence. Different landlords will look at criminal convictions for different lengths of time.
At the meeting with the landlord, you need to show that you will be a good tenant. You could show that your conviction should not count against you because it is from a long time ago. Also, you could show that your behavior has improved since you were convicted. Bring letters from teachers, mentors, pastors or others that say how you have changed. Certificates showing you completed courses or programs can also be helpful. You may want to consult with an attorney before the meeting. To find out if you are eligible for Legal Aid, please contact intake at 216.687.1900 or attend a free Brief Advice Clinic.
This article was written by Legal Aid Supervising Attorney Maria Smith and appeared in The Alert: Volume 29, Issue 2. Click here to read the full issue.