Manatt received the Breaking Education Barriers Award from the Learning Rights Law Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education equity. CBS-Los Angeles reporter Randy Paige presented Manatt with the award at the Center’s Cause for Celebration event, held October 15 in Marina del Rey. The firm was recognized for its precedent-setting victory for pro bono client Desiree R., then a high school senior living with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, who was denied full access to her school’s campus due to her disability.
Desiree, who cannot ascend or descend stairs due to a genetic progressive neurological disorder, was not permitted to use her public high school’s elevator without a chaperone escorting her. Her numerous requests for an elevator key were repeatedly denied by school officials.
“Desiree’s case was an especially inspiring one for us,” said Cristin Zeisler, Manatt partner and director of the firm’s pro bono services. “Not only was she an honors student who was denied equal access to her classes on the basis of a physical disability, but she was a fighter who wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. It’s humbling to know she could lean on us when she needed to stand up the most.”
With the help of Manatt lawyers, Ed Burg and Jessica Rosen, Desiree filed suit against the Antelope Valley Union High School District in June 2010 for violations under the ADA, Section 504, and the California Unruh Act, asking the Court to enjoin the school to provide her with an elevator key. In October 2010, the Court ruled in favor of Desiree, issuing a rare published opinion determining that she was excluded from school activities on the basis of her disability and that the school failed to prove that the reasonable accommodation of an elevator key constitutes a fundamental or substantial modification of its programs and standards.
Throughout her legal battle for a key, Desiree maintained a 3.8 GPA. She has recently begun her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley.
Established in 2005, the Learning Rights Law Center aims to ensure that all students are provided with equitable access to the public education system. The Center focuses its efforts on students living in low-income households, with disabilities or who have otherwise been unjustly denied full access to a proper education.
Learn more about the Learning Rights Law Center here.