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Students in the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic recently participated in cases including the following:

Housing

Ms. W, a young disabled woman, had moved into an apartment that had been represented as accessible but was not. Building common areas, including the leasing office, were inaccessible to Ms. W. The walls and doors of her own apartment were also too narrowly built to accommodate her wheelchair and became damaged as she attempted to negotiate her way. When she attempted to pay her rent online, as she could not visit the office to pay in person, she was fined a late charge after a computer malfunction. Clinic students researched the federal and state Fair Housing Acts, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and North Carolina Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. They then assisted Ms. W in negotiating with the building owner to obtain accommodations of the client's disability, including return of any late fees, and, ultimately, an end to her lease without any penalty or excess charges.

Unpaid Wages

For roughly a decade, Mr. A worked for a contractor performing manual labor, digging ditches in the ground and installing cable equipment. Despite his typical workweeks of roughly 60 hours, the employer did not pay him time-and-a-half of the regular wage rate for hours over 40 per week, in contravention of state and federal law. Additionally, the employer often under-calculated the number of hours Mr. A worked, cheating him of money he had earned. Mr. A came to the Clinic for assistance recovering the wages he was due. Students conducted legal research on the Federal Labor Standards Act, the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act, and contract law. They worked with their client to piece together available evidence and identify additional witnesses. They also conducted factual research regarding the employers, as several businesses under similar names have shared responsibility for employing Mr. A and his co-workers. As of July 2015, a complaint against the employers has been drafted and filed in federal court, and we are waiting on the answer. In the meantime, Mr. A has learned from other workers that, since he filed his lawsuit, the employer changed its practices and has been paying all of its employees overtime.

Mr. R is a 68-year-old man who has worked as a professional painter all his life. A Chapel Hill resident purchased a residential property in poor condition and asked Mr. R to help get the house in shape by scraping, sanding, and painting the property’s interior. Mr. R and the homeowner agreed on a price and timeline, and he commenced work. To get the job done on time, Mr. R worked unusually long hours. He worked more than 12 hours per day for two weeks straight. At the end, to Mr. R’s surprise, the homeowner flatly refused to pay. Mr. R contacted the Clinic for assistance, and the students very quickly researched the facts, gathered evidence from supporting witnesses, and assessed Mr. R’s claims. The students then crafted and sent a letter to the homeowner, in an attempt to reach a mutually amicable resolution. After receiving no response, the students drafted a complaint, which they then filed in state court. The homeowner attempted to evade service and delayed the proceeding slightly, but eventually we were able to effect service and a hearing date was set. The students carefully prepared their client to testify. On the day of the hearing, the students conducted an excellent direct examination of their client and cross examination of the homeowner. The judge found our client to be the more credible witness, and she issued a judgment in his favor. The homeowner threatened to appeal but when her time to appeal expired, she instead paid the full judgment to the court. The client was glad to recover the money owed, but he expressed that he was even more satisfied by the opportunity to tell his story in open court, and for the opportunity to teach the defendant never again to take advantage of someone in his position.

Unemployment Insurance

Ms. C has struggled with substance addiction for two decades. This year, she pursued this struggle with new energy. She entered a residential treatment facility and then, once she completed her stay, connected with off-site counselors who helped her to stay on track. But, she found that following through fully on her treatment program interfered with her work schedule, and decided that, at least temporarily, she needed to devote herself full time to her recovery. Ms. C informed her supervisor at Target, where she was employed, about her condition and the dangers of relapsing, and explained that pursuing treatment would conflict with the work schedule, so she would need to resign. Ms. C then applied for unemployment insurance but was denied. Clinic students represented Ms. C in an appeal of that decision. North Carolina's unemployment insurance law provides benefits for employees who leave work due to a disability or health condition, and the students argued that substance addiction is a form of such disability. The students supplemented their client's testimony with that of her social worker and medical texts supporting her opinion. Happily, the students prevailed, and the Appeals Referee issued a finding in favor of our client, awarding her full benefits.

Employment Discrimination

Mr. J worked as a security guard for roughly a decade, and when he applied for such a position with Employer N, he believed he had a good chance. In fact, he received notice that he had been approved for the position and needed only to undergo a medical exam. During his medical interview, he admitted he suffered from diabetes. On the basis of this condition, with no further analysis, the employer rejected Mr. J's application for employment. Clinic students received the case when it was already scheduled for mediation, so they worked quickly to develop rapport with their client, learn as much as they could about his condition and its limits, research the Americans with Disabilities Act, and assemble the records of Mr. J's condition. After a full day of negotiations, followed by several weeks of hammering out details, the students reached a very favorable settlement for their client. Mr. J was immediately placed into the position for which he applied, plus retroactive salary and other payments totaling $40,000.

UNC School of Law | Van Hecke-Wettach Hall | 160 Ridge Road, CB #3380 | Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380 | 919.962.5106


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