Williams, Patricia v. State of WI DWD et al
ORDER granting defendant's 48 Motion for Summary Judgment. The clerk of courtis directed to enter judgment for defendant and close this case. Signed by District Judge Barbara B. Crabb on 11/13/2017. (jef),(ps)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - PATRICIA ANN WILLIAMS,
OPINION AND ORDER
WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Pro se plaintiff Patricia Ann Williams is proceeding on a claim that defendant
Department of Workforce Development violated the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to pay
for expenses related to law school as part of her “individual plan for employment.” Now
before the court is defendant’s motion for summary judgment. Dkt. #48. For the reasons
below, I am granting the motion.
From defendant’s proposed findings of fact and plaintiff’s responses, I find the
following facts to be material and undisputed.
Title I of the Rehabilitation Act is intended to assist states in operating a
comprehensive program of vocational rehabilitation services for individuals with disabilities.
29 U.S.C. §§ 701-797.
The Wisconsin legislature accepted the provisions of the
Rehabilitation Act and designated the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which is part
of defendant Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, as its rehabilitation
services agency. Wis. Stat. § 47.02(1). Pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act, defendant
provides vocational rehabilitation services to assist individuals with disabilities “in preparing
for, securing, retaining, or regaining an employment outcome that is consistent with the
individual’s strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities, capabilities, interests, and
informed choice.” 34 C.F.R. § 361.48.
Defendant provides various services to eligible individuals, including job search and
placement assistance, occupational licenses, disability and employment assessments and
interpreter services. A central component of the Rehabilitation Act is the requirement that
the responsible state agency work with each eligible individual to develop an individualized
plan for employment. The purpose of the plan is to assist the individual in establishing,
securing, retaining or regaining employment that is consistent with the individual’s
strength’s, resources, abilities and capabilities.
The task of implementing an individualized plan for employment is shared by both
the individual with a disability and defendant. Each plan must include “a description of the
specific employment outcome that is chosen by the eligible individual” and “a description
of the specific vocational rehabilitation services that are . . . needed to achieve the
employment outcome,” among other things. 29 U.S.C. § 722(b)(4). In developing these
plans, the state agency must work with the individual to establish a specific “employment
outcome” for the individual, as well as the “nature and scope of vocational rehabilitation
services to be included in the [plan].” 34 C.F.R. § 361.45(b)(1). The state must insure that
the plan is developed in a manner that allows the individual to exercise informed choice. 34
C.F.R. § 361.45(b)(2). The final individualized plan for employment must be agreed to and
signed by the individual and a qualified vocation rehabilitation counselor. 34 C.F.R. §
B. Plaintiff’s Proposed Individualized Plan for Employment
Plaintiff Patricia Williams suffers from diabetes and anxiety and receives vocational
rehabilitation services from defendant.
She has held a bachelor’s degree since 1994.
(Defendant has not challenged plaintiff’s eligibility for receiving services.) Patrick Schultz,
a vocational counselor, has been assigned to plaintiff’s file since 2012 and has helped her in
developing an individualized plan for employment.
In the spring of 2016, plaintiff notified Schultz that her employment goal was to
become a civil rights attorney. (Before this, plaintiff’s long-term employment goal according
to her plan was to become a “training/employment specialist” or “career counselor.” Her
individual plan for employment related to that goal was the subject of a separate lawsuit.
Williams v. Wisconsin Dept. of Workforce Development, 16-cv-475-bbc, (W.D. Wis.
summary judgement granted to defendants on May 5, 2017)). Schultz met with plaintiff
in May 2016 and requested that she do some research to develop a plan, including job
shadowing, examining job placement and employment statistics and cost of attendance.
Because defendant’s training grants for vocational rehabilitation are limited to a maximum
of $5,000 a year in most circumstances, Schultz told plaintiff to research how she planned
pay the cost of tuition. (The parties agree that law school tuition could exceed $60,000 a
year.) Additionally, because plaintiff stated that she had some difficulties learning in the
past, had struggled during her undergraduate studies and may have a learning disability,
Schultz told plaintiff that psychological testing would be appropriate before defendant would
consider providing a grant to help pay for law school tuition.
Plaintiff initially agreed to undergo a psychological assessment. However, in June
2016, plaintiff told Schultz that she was reluctant to undergo testing because she believed
defendant would use the results to deny her tuition assistance. Schultz told plaintiff that it
was defendant’s goal to have her be successful in reaching her employment goals, but stated
that he could not guarantee that defendant would support her goal of becoming an attorney.
Schultz told plaintiff he would need documentation demonstrating that there was a
reasonable chance plaintiff would be able to achieve her employment goals. Plaintiff told
Schultz she would schedule a psychological assessment. However, plaintiff did not schedule
the psychological evaluation. Instead, she submitted an individualized plan for employment
that she had drafted herself, including her expectations for reaching her goal of becoming a
civil rights attorney. The plan proposed that defendant would pay for all of plaintiff’s law
Schultz rejected plaintiff’s proposed plan in a letter dated June 15, 2016.
explained that the plan was premature because plaintiff had not applied for or been accepted
to any accredited law schools and had not completed the psychological assessment to
diagnose any learning difficulties. Additionally Schultz was concerned that plaintiff had not
fully researched the skills required for the occupation or the employment outlook. Schultz
attempted to work with plaintiff to schedule a psychological assessment, which would be
paid for by defendant. The examination was scheduled originally for September 2016, but
plaintiff rescheduled it numerous times.
In the meantime, plaintiff filed a demand for an administrative hearing to appeal
Schultz’s denial letter. In November 2016, a hearing was held before the Division of
Hearings and Appeals to address plaintiff’s appeal. In December 2016, the administrative
law judge issued a written decision affirming defendant’s requirement that plaintiff undergo
an evaluation before it would consider assisting her with law school tuition.
administrative law judge noted that defendant “has a credible and legitimate concern
regarding the possible learning disability” and that “it would be negligent of [defendant] not
to rule that out before considering her [individualized plan of employment], as proposed.
This is especially true where the [plan] covers a multi-year educational effort.” Plaintiff did
not appeal the administrative law judge’s decision to state circuit court. She filed suit in this
court on December 13, 2016.
In February 2017, Schultz met with plaintiff again. Plaintiff told Schultz she was not
willing to undergo a psychological assessment. Schultz told plaintiff that defendant would
not consider her plan until she had participated in the assessment. In July 2017, plaintiff
and Schultz met again and plaintiff agreed to the assessment. (The assessment apparently
took place in August 2017, though neither party has submitted the results.) To date,
plaintiff has not submitted to defendant a completed application to any accredited law
school, a Law School Admissions Test score or any plan on how to pay for law school tuition
beyond insisting that defendant pay the full cost of tuition.
Plaintiff contends that defendant violated the Rehabilitation Act by refusing to pay
for expenses related to law school as part of her individual plan for employment. Defendant
makes several arguments as to why summary judgment is appropriate, including a thorough
discussion of the appropriate standard of review and level of deference owed the
administrative law judge’s decision at the Division of Hearings and Appeals. However, I
need not address most of the arguments presented by defendant because it is clear from the
undisputed facts and applicable law that plaintiff’s claim must fail.
Under the Rehabilitation Act, defendant provides services “necessary to assist an
individual with a disability in preparing for, securing, retaining, or regaining an employment
outcome that is consistent with the strengths, resources, priorities, concerns, abilities,
capabilities, interests and informed choice of the individual.” 29 U.S.C. § 723. In insisting
that defendant pay the full cost of law school tuition, plaintiff focuses only on her “interests”
in pursuing a legal career, but there are other considerations that defendant may take into
account in creating and approving an individualized plan, such as plaintiff’s resources,
abilities and capabilities. Defendant reasonably and appropriately considered these other
important factors by conditioning consideration of plaintiff’s proposed plan on her
agreement to undergo a psychological assessment to evaluate her potential learning
difficulties. Defendant also acted reasonably in expecting plaintiff to submit proof that she
could take the law school admissions test score, gain admittance to an accredited law school
and propose ways in which she could help pay the costs of tuition.
Plaintiff has cited no legal authority that would support a conclusion that defendant
acted unlawfully in imposing these reasonable requirements. Instead, courts considering
similar claims have rejected them.
E.g., Mallett v. Wisconsin Division of Vocational
Rehabilitation, 248 F.3d 1158 (7th Cir. 2000) (“It was not unlawful for the agency to
determine, in its discretion, that based on Mallett’s paltry scholastic performance, his
learning disabilities, and his overall abilities and capabilities that graduate school tuition was
not a service that was required.”); Morgan v. Wisconsin Dept. of Workforce Development,
2016 WI App 80, ¶ 43, 372 Wis. 2d 184, 888 N.W.2d 22 (rejecting argument that
Rehabilitation Act required Department of Workforce Development to fund claimant’s
graduate school studies). Indeed, plaintiff’s suggestion that defendant should have approved
payment of more than $100,000 for law school tuition without requiring her to help pay for
the costs or to show that she was capable of succeeding borders on frivolous. Accordingly,
defendant is entitled to summary judgment.
Development’s motion for summary judgment, dkt. #48, is GRANTED. The clerk of court
is directed to enter judgment for defendant and close this case.
Entered this 13th day of November, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
BARBARA B. CRABB
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