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The AARP has joined a pro bono team from the D.C. office of Kaye Scholer to press a disability rights case against Montgomery County on behalf of one of the Maryland county’s social workers. Their client is Susan Cohen, a county worker for more than 20 years who suffers from multiple sclerosis. The case stems from a request Cohen made that she be reassigned to a job that required no field work. The county eventually agreed to make the accommodation � but it came 17 months after Cohen first made the request. So Cohen filed a complaint in Montgomery County Circuit Court, claiming disability discrimination. The court dismissed her suit, saying that it was rendered moot when the county provided Cohen with her requested accommodation. Last February, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals disagreed and reinstated the suit. “Simply because appellant received the accommodation she requested does not make that accommodation, no matter how belated, a ‘reasonable accommodation,’ ” the appeals panel wrote. “ Dilatory tactics, in fact, would be rewarded not penalized as many disabled employees, seeing no progress, would undoubtedly drop their accommodation requests.” The case could go to trial early next year. Cohen is seeking damages and various system changes by Montgomery County in how it handles accommodation requests by disabled workers. AARP attorney Daniel Kohrman, who recently got involved in the case, says an accommodation delayed can be an accommodation denied � particularly for older workers. “Older workers might not feel like they’ve got forever to wait for an accommodation,” he says. Kohrman says the AARP, which advocates for the rights of older workers, joined the case because “disability discrimination can be, in effect, another form of age discrimination.” Kaye Scholer D.C. partner Kerry Alan Scanlon and associates T. Melindah Bush and Brian Hale have been working on Cohen’s behalf. Recommended by another client, Scanlon says Cohen was originally a paying client until it became clear that the case required lengthy litigation. Scanlon formerly supervised the Department of Justice’s Disability Rights Section. “You have a county whose very agency [is] protecting older citizens and persons of disabilities and here theyare discriminating against their own people with disabilities,” Scanlon says. “We were simply trying to make sure her rights were protected.” ADOPTION ASSISTANCE McDermott, Will & Emery partner David Fuller has a modest goal: to convince half of the Fortune 500 companies to add adoption assistance programs to their employee benefit plans. Adoptive parents often have to shell out as much as $20,000 to complete the adoption of one child. Fuller knows, because two years ago he and his wife, Catherine, adopted a daughter from South Korea. While attending mandatory classes with other would-be adoptive parents, Fuller, a tax lawyer, found himself fielding dozens of questions about possible tax breaks that are available for adoptive parents. Surprised at the dearth of information available, Fuller started to compile information for a Web site devoted to employer adoption assistance plans and education on the tax benefits for those adopting. Adoptive parents whose combined income is $150,000 per year or less can both claim a $10,390 tax break and exempt $10,390 per year of their salary, pre-tax, for an adoption � provided their employers have so-called cafeteria plans, which allow workers to pick and choose some benefits. The tax break decreases for a combined income of over $150,000, and phases out at $196,000. Fuller also wrote a model adoption assistance program for companies with these plans. Companies can add such a program, using Fuller’s template, to their benefit offerings at no additional cost. After several hundred hours of work on the project, in late November Fuller launched his adoption assistance Web site as part of McDermott’s firmwide site. The exempted salary and $10,000 tax break can combine to reduce the cost of adopting by about $14,000, Fuller says. “If just one family makes the decision to adopt because of this, I’ll be happy,” he says. He says McDermott is planning a mailing to all its clients to encourage them to use the free plan and the Web site. � Marie Beaudette PUBLIC INTEREST CHIEF Two public interest law programs are seeking leaders for their organizations. The Legal Services Corp., which funds civil legal aid programs across the country with a $330 million budget, hopes to announce a new president by Jan. 1. With the help of search firm Heidrick & Struggles, an 11-member bipartisan board interviewed four candidates on Nov. 22 and 23 in New York. Former Rep. John Erlenborn (R-Ill.) has served as the interim president since 2001, when John McKay stepped down from the group’s top slot. The LSC will not identify the people on its short list of candidates, as some currently hold other positions. Victor Fortuno, LSC vice president for legal affairs, says the board even arranged the interviews so that the candidates did not cross paths. Also looking for a new leader is D.C.’s Neighborhood Legal Services Program, funded in part by the LSC. The group announced its search for an executive director last month. Longtime director Willie Cook Jr., who had been with the organization for more than 30 years, stepped down in January. Roberta Wright, who had been co-chair of the group’s board of directors, has served as interim executive director since his retirement. In her short tenure, Wright has brought the program up to speed technologically. The program formerly had no Internet, e-mail, or case management software. The search committee has extended Wright’s contract until June 2004, and applications for the positions will be accepted until Dec. 31. Wright says she plans to apply for the position. BREAK THE CYCLE Los Angeles nonprofit Break the Cycle, an organization working to stop domestic violence, is branching out to Washington, New York, and San Francisco. Break the Cycle helps youths between the ages of 12 and 22 escape abusive relationships. The group also provides free legal advice and services in both English and Spanish. “We really wanted to be in a place where we could influence policy on domestic violence,” says spokesman Jonathan Cohen of the group’s decision to open in Washington. Break the Cycle hired Juley Fulcher, the public policy director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to head its D.C. office. The organization will begin working in office space donated by Shearman & Sterling. Morrison & Foerster has helped the group research the applicable laws in the targeted cities. Cohen says the firm has provided the “lifeline and ability” for the group to expand. Work from Morrison & Foerster’s D.C. office was headed by associate Mara McNeill. OBER, KALER GIVES BACK Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver celebrated its 100th anniversary by awarding $30,000 to nonprofits that serve the same communities it does � Washington and Baltimore. From roughly 75 applications, the firm chose five grantees. Ober, Kaler awarded Baltimore’s Center for Poverty Studies a $10,000 grant; lawyers and staff will also volunteer at the organization, including donating their legal expertise if needed. The firm also awarded $5,000 each to Baltimore organizations Franciscan Youth Center, My Sister’s Circle, and the Village Learning Place. The law firm also gave $5,000 to D.C.’s Capitol Hill Group Ministries for its Mission Impossible program, which helps children in Southeast D.C. ENDANGERED LAWS The Environmental Law Institute has launched a new program that calls attention to a recent spate of cases that lawyers at the D.C.-based think tank believe are undermining environmental protection laws. The institute’s new Endangered Environmental Laws Program outlines interpretations of key areas of law by “a cadre of ideologically driven litigators and judges” that often undermine the basis of certain environmental laws. These interpretations either question Congress’ authority to enact such laws or limit citizens’ ability to enforce them in court, says Director Jay Austin. “There’s a lot at stake here,” Austin argues, referring to environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, that are being affected by a dozen cases. The institute has launched a Web site filled with research and opinion pieces. Seminars and public events are planned as part of the program, and lawyers anticipate intervening in cases as amici. Austin says that the courts are being used to carry out anti-environment initiatives that could not have otherwise been achieved through legislation. The program has also attracted help from D.C.’s Community Rights Counsel and the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice. Also involved are a group of informal advisers, including attorneys from Latham & Watkins; Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “Pro Bono Bulletin Board” appears monthly. Alicia Upano can be reached at [email protected].

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