Posted On: June 9, 2008 by Kirk Bernard

DSHS and day-care centers reach deal over suits

Two long running civil rights lawsuits have reached a tentative settlement. The suits were brought by Latino-owned day-care centers in Mattawa, in Eastern Washington, against the state Department of Social and Health Services over unauthorized searches and seizures of property.

A federal judge must approve the settlements, but if approved, nine plaintiffs in one case would receive $45,000 each. The suit results would also require the state to revise its manual on handling home child-care inspections and notify all 7,000 day-care centers in the state of the changes. Columbia Legal Services, which represents the day-care owners, would receive $350,000 in fees.

Approximately $1.7 million is the tentative settlement in the other case. But according to DSHS, the split between the 21 plaintiffs and their private Seattle attorneys hasn't been determined.

"We think this is a reasonable solution," said Steve Williams, DSHS spokesman.

According to YakimaHerald.com, “Columbia Legal Services in Wenatchee in 2005 won class-action status on behalf of about 4,000 day-care providers in Washington and a subclass status for all non-English speaking day-care providers in the state. They sought systemic changes within DSHS and unspecified monetary compensation for the nine Mattawa day-care providers.”

The day-care licensing duties of DSHS have since been transferred to the Department of Early Learning.

YakimaHerald.com also states: “In the lawsuit, day-care owners alleged that the ‘white mayor of Mattawa,’ Judy Esser, and members of the ‘all-white Mattawa Police Department’ urged a state investigation into day-care providers working in the community of 3,000, which in 2001 was about 95 percent Hispanic.”

As a result, the investigation included inappropriate searches and confiscations, unnecessary immigration inquiries, intimidation, and legal documents that were never translated into Spanish -- the primary language of many of the providers, the suit stated.

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