The American Civil Liberties and the ACLU of the District of Columbia filed an administrative complaint with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal volunteer service agency that operates the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. The complaint was filed on behalf of 22-year-old Susie Balcom, a recent college graduate and two-term AmeriCorps state program alumna who received multiple offers to serve with the national program. After she completed the CNCS medical questionnaire, which included her mental health history, the offers were rescinded.
Balcom’s complaint is filed on behalf of all current and recent applicants for service positions with AmeriCorps who either have, or who were regarded as having, a mental health disability as part of the CNCS health screening process. The complaint alleges the process violates the Rehabilitation Act, the federal law that prohibits disability discrimination by federal agencies, as well as CNCS’s own civil rights policy.
In April 2017, Balcom accepted a one-year position to serve as a support team leader, which would require her to coordinate logistics and trainings for members in the AmeriCorps office in Mississippi. In May, she was contacted by an AmeriCorps counselor who had additional questions regarding the three sessions of counseling she sought for anxiety. She explained that she had been sexually groped by a co-worker and had sought counseling for self-care. A few weeks later, AmeriCorps notified Balcom that she was disqualified from service because of the anxiety she had disclosed on the medical form.
In September 2019, CNCS and the ACLU announced a settlement under which CNCS will overhaul its health screening process to ensure equal opportunities for everyone, including applicants with disabilities. The revised health screening process will use a new questionnaire that focuses on whether applicants are able to perform the core functions of service with AmeriCorps, with or without reasonable accommodations. As a result, no applicant will be automatically shut out of service with the organization because of an actual or perceived disability, medical diagnosis, or treatment. In addition, AmeriCorps will institute a new formal system for applicants and current service members to request reasonable accommodations that will help them serve, such as access to mental health counseling via phone or videoconference. AmeriCorps will also invite all class members who are still age-eligible to reapply, financially compensate those who applied and were not placed in the program, offer a professional development course to class members, and establish a recruitment program for people with disabilities. The organization will report to the ACLU for the next two years on how the new process is working.
For more insights on this case, check out National ACLU's blog post linked here.