Girl Scouts Deny 12 Year-Old Deaf Girl Access to Interpreter
Today, Megan Runnion, a 12 year-old girl who is deaf, filed a federal lawsuit against the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana seeking to secure an American Sign Language interpreter for meetings of her Girl Scout troop. The lawsuit, brought under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, was filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois.
Megan joined Girl Scouts when she was in kindergarten. For six years, she was provided with a sign language interpreter by Girl Scouts for troop meetings and outings. But last fall, when Megan’s mother renewed the request for the interpreter, the Girl Scouts denied her request. Rather than providing the requested interpreter services, Megan’s troop was disbanded.
“Megan is heartbroken that she can no longer participate in Girl Scouts,” said Edie Runnion, Megan’s mother. “All of the children in our family have been involved in scouting, and it is devastating for Megan that she is being prevented from being a Girl Scout.”
“Entities that receive federal funding, like the Girl Scouts, are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities,” said Steven Blonder, lead counsel in the case and a partner at Much Shelist, PC, which is handling the case on a pro bono basis. “The Girl Scouts denial of a sign language interpreter is a clear violation of federal law and our lawsuit seeks to rectify this injustice.”
The Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana is the largest Girl Scout Council in the country with net assets that exceed $28 million. Its stated mission is to “build girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place” and to create programs for “girls of all age levels, races, ethnicities, beliefs, economies, geographies and physical abilities.”
“The Girl Scouts is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, but because of its discriminatory actions, Megan can’t be part of that celebration,” said Barry Taylor, Vice President of Civil Rights and Systemic Advocacy at Equip for Equality, and co-counsel for Megan. “The lessons that the Girl Scouts have taught the girls in Megan’s former troop is that it is preferable to disband a troop rather than to include someone who is different.” Equip for Equality attorneys Laura Miller and Rachel Arfa are also representing Megan.
“The Girl Scouts’ refusal to provide interpreter services not only violates federal law, but also is contrary to the founding principles of the Girl Scouts,” said Howard A. Rosenblum, an attorney and the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of the Deaf, which is serving as co-counsel. “Ironically, Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts, herself became deaf later in life and she welcomed girls of all abilities at a time when they were excluded from many other activities.”
For more information, please view a copy of the Complaint here.
Reference: U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, and Chicago
Case No. 1:12-cv-06066
Runnion v. Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana
Steven Blonder, Much Shelist P.C.,
Barry Taylor, Equip for Equality