How the Michigan Department of Civil Rights Conspired with Disability Network to Violate First Amendment Rights of Michiganders with Disabilities on September 17

The email evidence below – obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) tells the story of how Michigan’s ADA Compliance Officer, Sharon Alston-Ellis, conspired with Disability Network/Michigan CEO Sara Grivetti to have Michiganders with disabilities physically barricaded from the ADA 25th Anniversary Celebration on September 17, 2015.

Read more about what happened that terrible day.

The event was free, open to the public, and taking place of the Michigan Capitol Lawn – a space specifically reserved for Free Speech activities. These records show that employees of the State of Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights actively used their influence with the Michigan State Police to retaliate against Michiganders with disabilities who oppose the archaic and dehumanizing practice of subminimum wage for people with disabilities.

Copied on these communications were: David Price (of MARO – an association of sheltered workshops and subminimum wage employers); Robin Bennett (SILC Council Member); and many employees that work under Ms. Ellis at the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (DTMB) and the Department of Civil Rights, as well as other state agencies.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights’ Mission: “We ensure all aspects of the State of Michigan are compliant with federal and state Americans with Disabilities Act-related laws. We engage citizens and advocacy groups to learn through listening.” On September 17th, 2015, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights used public resources to engage in activities that directly contradict their mission. MDCR engaged in direct retaliation as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

Here’s an abbreviated run-down of what these communications reveal:

September 11:

September 12:

  • Sara Grivetti updates the event planning committee (including SILC Member Robin Bennett, MARO representative David Price, and ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis) of the concerns raised by consumers and her disappointment in our behavior. Grivetti engages public relations firm Truscott & Rossman to stop consumers from “high-jacking” their message.

September 14:

  • ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis updates her staff at the Department of Civil Rights on her intent to contact the Head of Capitol Police “to alert him of petition language”. Our petition had gained 120 signatures by that point.

September 16:

  • Sara Grivetti informs the planning committee that she has been in touch with Capitol Security and that the Lieutenant Governor has been “apprised of the protesters concerns and educated on the issue”.
  • ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis obtains talking points developed by Truscott & Rossman public relations firm, noting that she “could’ve gotten the same stuff for free”. The talking points are straight out of the MARO playbook, claiming that people deserve the right to work for subminimum wages and that these “jobs” provide opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available. These statements are built on the ableist premise that people with disabilities cannot compete in the workforce and directly contradict the ADA.
  • Michigan ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis then contacts Dan Brocklehust, Capitol Facilities Director, to conduct a private conversation by phone. She follows up 21 minutes later with the talking points developed by Truscott & Rossman and contact information for the Department of Civil Rights Communications Department. She follows up again two minutes later with the petition language, urging Brocklehurst to “note the Capitol-related language”.
  • Executive Director of the Department of Civil Rights Matthew Wesaw confirms that their staff planned to be in attendance to be witnesses as Michiganders with disabilities are denied their First Amendment rights.
  • ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis then confirms that the ADA Road to Freedom Bus was no longer welcome at the event because of their support of the protesters’ position supporting the ADA. The State ADA Compliance Officer is informed that they did not schedule enough ASL interpreters to cover the event, which she simply dismisses.

September 17:

  • According to the Police Report, a Sergeant met with Sara Grivetti (Disability Network/Michigan; MiSILC) and Ellen Weaver (Disability Network Capitol Area / CACIL), who agreed that “protesters” must be kept out of the event. “I [Sergeant Held] met with Ellen Weaver and Sarah Grivetti at 8:30 AM. They stated they did not want the protesters to disrupt their event. We agreed that I would allow them to protest on the other side of the Austin Blair Statue, and they would not be allowed into the main area of the event, near the East Steps.”

September 18:

  • Michigan Department of Civil Rights employee Jacki Miller distributes an article by the Michigan State Police, who concocted the absurd and now-debunked lie that one protester “shoved two officers”. This was a deliberate attempt to discredit the non-violent protesters who were directly and repeatedly retaliated against by the State of Michigan.
  • ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis wraps up the week’s events for the event Planning Committee. She assures everyone that they did a fantastic job celebrating progress for people with disabilities. She states that the disability community should be celebrating because they are no longer referring to us as “mongoloids”, “cripples”, and “retards” and because people in other countries have it way worse than us.

You can read the communications in full below. 

On September 12, Sara Grivetti updates the event planning committee (including SILC Member Robin Bennett, MARO representative David Price, and ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis) of the concerns raised by consumers and her disappointment in our behavior. Grivetti engages public relations firm Truscott & Rossman to stop consumers from “high-jacking” their message.


From: Sara Grivetti
To: Amy Maes (DN/M); Christine Morse; David Price (MARO); Ellen Weaver (CACIL); Ellis, Sharon (DTMB); JohnsonJ; Kelly Blackwell (CACIL); Kristen Potts; Mark Pierce (CACIL); Norm DeLisle; Robin Bennett (Michigan SILC); Smith, Meredith (DCH)

Good Morning,

For every challenge that’s been thrown at us, we’ve found a solution. Friday was certainly a day of challenges; and by the end of the day I think we overcame most of them.

Our alternate key note speaker, Billy Altom, was advised by his board of directors not to participate in the Michigan ADA event. Therefore, leaving us with the need to find a keynote speaker once again. Thanks to some assistance from Joel Cooper and Kristen Potts from Disability Network/Southwest Michigan we secured Robin Jones, Director of the Great Lakes ADA Center, to serve as our keynote speaker.

The ADA Legacy Tour Bus has also cancelled their appearance at the event. Unfortunately preventing our attendees from obtaining more education about the ADA.

Friday was an emotion filled Statewide Independent Living Council meeting. For those who may not know, I serve as the Chair of this Governor-appointed council. Robin Bennett, ADA Planning Committee member also serves on this council. The council heard from 7 individuals about concerns they have regarding the ADA event. The concerns ranged from SILCs membership in MARO, our acceptance of sponsorship money from Peckham and MARO, to the fact the event should not be called a Celebration because Michigan is far from full enactment of the ADA. As the meeting neared the end, I delivered an impassioned speech on how disappointed I am that as advocates we aren’t standing together, I shared that I’m tired of hearing about problems without the offering of solutions and explained that the event was not only a celebration, but also an opportunity to educate hundreds of people about the ADA and encourage more advocacy for full realization of the ADA. Because of some threats of protests, possible negative media attention and negative e-mails circulating around, Disability Network/Michigan has engaged a public relations firm for some professional assistance. I will be meeting with Kelly Rossman-McKinney from Truscott Rossman on Monday for some professional advice & support on how the key purpose and message of our event is not high-jacked.

(Sharon…) will keep you and Vicki in the loop on this)

will also be meeting with the Lt Governor’s office to ensure that he is well informed about the challenges and possible protests.

appreciate everyone’s hard work on this event. Hundreds of attendees will likely have no knowledge of our recent challenges and will be thrilled with the event and program we’ve hosted.

Sara Grivetti, MA, CRC
Chief Executive Officer
Disability Network\MI


On September 14, ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis updates her staff at the Department of Civil Rights on her intent to contact the Head of Capitol Police “to alert him of petition language”.


From: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)
To: Fritz, Leslee (MDCR); Levengood, Vicki (MDCR); Wesaw, Matthew (MDCR)
Cc: Hoffman, Joel (DTMB); Ferrigan, Judy (DTMB)

All guidance appreciated. will be speaking later this morning with the head of services for the Capitol to alert him re the petition language. We have assisted him with Braille signage advice in the past, but I don’t know whether the signage was updated.

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director


On September 16, Sara Grivetti informs the planning committee (including SILC Member Robin Bennett, MARO representative David Price, and ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis) that she has been in touch with Capitol Security and that the Lieutenant Governor has been “apprised of the protesters concerns and educated on the issue”.


From: Sara Grivetti
To: Amy Maes; Christine Morse; Ellen Weaver; David Price (MARO); Ellis, Sharon (DTMB); JohnsonJ; Kelly Blackwell (CACIL); Kristen Potts; Norm DeLisle; Mark Pierce (CACIL); Robin Bennett (Michigan SILC); Smith, Meredith (DCH)

Good Morning!!!

We are one day away from our big event, and despite some hurtles I think we are good shape and will have an energetic day. I am sending this e-mail to update you on a few things from my end. First, as we know, there will be a protest. From what I can tell the protest will be a call to end the use of subminimum wage. I am aware of the following advocacy groups participating: Peer Action Alliance, GR Adapt and National Federation for the Blind/Michigan Chapter. I am unaware if the ADA Legacy Bus has raise the funds to come back to Michigan. However, If they did they do not have parking in front of the Capitol. Secondly, I spoke to the head of Capitol security yesterday. The protesters requested a counter protest certificate, but were denied. Therefore, the protesters may not protest on the actual Capitol lawn. However, they are not prevented from attending our event; they just can’t actively protest. This offered me comfort knowing that the stage is a “protected” area. The State Police will have personnel at the event.

I’ve worked with Kelly Rossman at Truscott Rossman, a PR firm, to develop some key messaging. At this point Amy and I will not be the primary media contacts and I should have our replacements firmed up today: The LG has also been apprised of the protesters concerns and educated on the issue. The key note speaker is secured and she has spoken to both myself and Joanne. I think that she will do a fine job delivering an ADA focused message.

Tomorrow we will CELEBRATE-ADVOCATE-EDUCATE!!! We will do that through the help of the protesters…I am not in fear of tomorrow, I am embracing it as an exciting opportunity to advocate for what we all agree on…the civil rights and equality for people with disabilities…for us!!!

Have a fabulous day!!!

Sara Grivetti, MA, CRC
Chief Executive Officer
Disability Network\MI


On September 16 ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis contacts Dan Brocklehust, Capitol Facilities Director, to conduct a private conversation. She follows up 21 minutes later with the talking points developed by Truscott & Rossman and contact information for the Department of Civil Rights communications Department. She follows up again two minutes later with the petition language, urging Brocklehurst to “note the Capitol-related language”.


From: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 11:02 AM
To: Dan Brocklehurst

Dan

Please call me as soon as you have a chance: 515-8589. Thanks.

s

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015; 11:23 AM


Hi, Dan

As I mentioned, here is the contact info for Communications Director Vicki Levengood. She’ll be happy to speak with you about the talking points we all have re the potential protests tomorrow.

Vicki Levengood / Levengoodv@michigan.gov / 517-242-0236

Looking forward to a successful event!

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director


Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015; 11:25 AM

Subject: FYI- note the Capitol-related language

Fwd: please sign this petition

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director


On September 16, the Executive Director of the Department of Civil Rights confirmed that their staff planned to be in attendance to witness Michiganders with disabilities denied their First Amendment rights.


On Sep 16, 2015, at 3:55PM, Wesaw, Matthew (MDCR) wrote:

Sharon/Vicki,

If you both are attending the event tomorrow I want to make sure that any requests for comment be referred to Vicki, no exception. I don’t want us getting dragged into something that we have had no part in developing. If there are unrelated questions to compliance I think Vicki can handle but Sharon you may want to make sure you are very near Vicki, again If both of you are there.

Matthew J. Wesaw, Executive Director
Michigan Department of Civil Rights


From: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015
To: Wesaw, Matthew (MDCR)
Cc: Levengood, Vicki (MDCR); Fritz, Leslee (MDCR)

That was our plan.

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director


From: Levengood, Vicki (MDCR)
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015
To: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB); Wesaw, Matthew (MDCR)
Cc: Fritz, Leslee (MDCR)

Yep, we spoke by phone and we’re all on the same page.


On September 16, ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis confirmed that the ADA Road to Freedom Bus was no longer welcome at the event because of their support of the protesters position supporting the ADA. The State ADA Compliance Officer is informed that they did not schedule enough interpreters to cover the event, which she simply dismisses.


From: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015
To: Levengood, Vicki (MDCR)

Subject: Fwd: Bring the ADA Bus to the Disability Rights Protest, Lansing, Sept. 17

The bus dropped out & ditched their funding from Peckham & MARO (event sponsors) & are here asking for funding to, protest the event from CILs, part of the MI Disability Network, coordinator of the event. My understanding is even if they get the here, their parking is no longer available.

Annie just called: Disability Network asked her to get interpreters. She has apparently tried like crazy & has only been able to get one. I said as long as she advised DN, she’s done everything she can.

Wonder if this has anything to do w the protest…

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director


On September 16, ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis confirms her attendance at the event and obtains talking points developed by Truscott & Rossman, noting that she “could’ve gotten the same stuff for free”. The talking points are straight out of the MARO playbook, claiming that people deserve the right to work for subminimum wages and that these “jobs” provide opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available. These statements are built on the ableist premise that people with disabilities cannot compete in the workforce and directly contradict the ADA.


From: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)
Sent: Wednesday, September 16, 2015
To: Sara Grivetti

Subject: Talking points?

If you got them, would you mind letting me see what you got from Rossman? Thanks. I’ve put the Capitol facilities chief in touch with Vickie so he’s aware of things. See you tmrw-9-ish?

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director


From: Sara Grivetti
Date: September 17, 2015 at 6:12:20 AM EDT
To: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)

Subject: RE: Talking points?

Sharon,

Sorry for the delay. These didn’t get finalized until late yesterday. See you around 9ish.

Sara


From: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)
Sent: Thursday, September 17, 2015; 8:01 AM
To: Levengood, Vicki (MDCR)
Cc: Wesaw, Matthew (MDCR); Fritz, Leslee (MDCR)

Subject Fwd: Talking points?

Attachments: Updated Disability Network Talking Points 09 1615(4) FINAL FINAL.DOCX;

V-Could’ve gotten same stuff from you for free.

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director

Updated DRAFT—Disability Network Talking Points 09.16.15

Primary (umbrella) Message

Today we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act—a cornerstone of civil rights law that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to be part of mainstream America—to live, work and play here.

Supportive/Secondary Messages

Michigan has been a forerunner in the nation when it comes to disability awareness. Here is how we have led the way:

  • The first time people with disabilities were visible in a public demonstration in front of the Michigan state capitol was the April 1976 Public Means All People March demanding access to public transportation.
  • That same year, the Michigan legislature passed revolutionary legislation—the Handicapper Civil Rights Act—that protected people with disabilities from discrimination, particularly in getting and keeping jobs.
  • In the last three years the Governor’s Summit on Disability Employment trained 400 Michigan businesses about the value of tapping into the talent of people with disabilities;
  • As a result, 1,800 people with disabilities are employed with those businesses.

And while we have accomplished much, there is still more to be done. The most spirited conversations we are having today center around wages and the fairness of those wages—both for the individuals who have those jobs and for those who provide those jobs. Frankly, that is a good problem to have because we are talking about it.

This debate is an extremely important part of moving forward and we welcome ways in which we can continue to work together—to collaborate —to find fair and reasonable solutions.

And to those who chose to stay away from today’s celebration of what we have accomplished, you’ve missed the opportunity to celebrate the success of today and work toward the opportunities for tomorrow.

Responsive statements

Under existing federal law, wages that are commensurate with productivity may be paid to people with significant disabilities—which creates employment opportunities that might not otherwise exist. This conversation is an important one to have as it must be resolved in a way that is fair to everyone—employees, employers, and ultimately customers— honoring and respecting their choices within a person centered, self-determined service delivery system.

We welcome the discussion and debate and doubt you will find anyone here today who supports unfair wages. What you will find are people who have devoted their lives to working with people with disabilities and are continuing to fight the fight for civil rights and equality.

We believe people with disabilities should have every opportunity to become fully integrated into the communities in which they live and work.

Fully informed choices are the very best opportunities we can offer, and that employment is the first step toward greater independence, self-sufficiency and community inclusion.

We can all agree that the choice of where and how to work and live should be left to the individual. Our role as disability advocates is to make sure people are making a fully informed choice, their choice.

We understand that we need to collaborate, to develop strong partnerships and be respectful of our differences in order to maximize the support and resources available to people with disabilities in our community.


On September 17, Department of Civil Rights employee Vicki Levengood remarks that she’s glad they are “a step removed today”. 


From: Levengood, Vicki (MDCR)
Sent: Thursday, September 17, 2015; 9:33 AM
To: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)
Cc: Wesaw, Matthew (MDCR); Fritz, Leslee (MDCR)

Subject: RE: Talking points?

Ah well. I’m glad we’re a step removed today.


On September 18, Michigan Department of Civil Rights employee Jacki Miller distributes an article by the Michigan State Police, who concocted the absurd and now-debunked lie that one protester “shoved two officers”. This was a deliberate attempt to discredit the non-violent protesters who were directly and repeatedly retaliated against by the State of Michigan.


From: Miller, Jacki (MDCR)
Sent: Friday, September 18, 2015; 9:02 AM
Subject: News clips for 9/18

From Gongwer: One Protester Arrested At Capitol

A counter-protest against a celebration at the Capitol of the anniversary of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act led to the arrest of one demonstrator who allegedly shoved two Department of State Police state properties security officers.

The counter protesters were demonstrating against some of the sponsors of the main demonstration for failing to pay some disabled employees the minimum wage as well as against the Capitol not being fully ADA-compliant, the Detroit Free Press reported.

In a statement, the State Police said its officers warned the man not to interfere with police, but he deliberately crossed a barricade separating the two groups before shoving two officers.

Jacki Miller, Public Information Officer
Michigan Department of Civil Rights


On September 18, ADA Compliance Officer Sharon Ellis wraps up the week’s events to the event planning committee. She assures everyone that they did a fantastic job celebrating progress for people with disabilities. She states that the disability community should be celebrating because they are no longer referring to us as “mongoloids, cripples, and retards” and because people in other countries have it way worse than us.


From: Ellis, Sharon (DTMB)
Sent: Friday, September 18, 2015; 1:38 PM
To: Sara Grivetti
Cc: Amy Maes; Christine Morse; David Price; Ellen Weaver; JohnsonJC@dnswm.org; Kelly Blackwell – CACIL; Kristen Potts (DNSWM); Mark Pierce (CACIL); Norm DeLisle; Robin Bennett (MI SILC); Smith, Meredith (DCH)

Subject: The day after

Congratulations & thanks to everyone for a really successful event yesterday! Despite a little craziness ahead of time, you all did a spectacular job CELEBRATING 25 years of progress for people with disabilities.

It’s so important to remember that while we are not where we want or need to be, we are moving forward every day. We in Michigan are so fortunate to have an administration that not only supports but strongly advocates, for better conditions at all levels for people with disabilities.

Many of you are too young to remember life 25 years ago, when parents of “mongoloid” children were told to put them in “homes;” when there was no discussion of underemployment of people with disabilities

.. It was just assumed they couldn’t be employed; when “crippled” and “retarded” were everyday terms; when a blind person who graduated from law school with honors sent out over 100 resumes and couldn’t get one interview.

My travels to other countries remind me of the first A in ADA: Americans. Many other citizens of other countries continue doomed to lives of begging or being trapped in their homes, and it’s hard or next to impossible for those of us with disabilities to navigate places with curbs that range from 2-3″at one end of a block to 8-12″ at the other end.

So while we are indeed not where we want or need to be in many ways, we do have plenty to celebrate.

Thanks for all your work on the event & everything you do every day. I appreciate the opportunity and privilege to work with you all.

Sharon Alston Ellis, J.D.
State ADA Compliance Director


An illustration of a person exuberantly shouting FOIA ALL THE THINGS by memegenerator.net

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2 thoughts on “How the Michigan Department of Civil Rights Conspired with Disability Network to Violate First Amendment Rights of Michiganders with Disabilities on September 17

  1. Inclusion, Accessibility, Advocacy. LEADS TO Respect, Dignity, Self-determination. FOSTERS Empowerment, Equality, Power. BUILDS Community, Culture, Pride. JUSTICE
    That’s what IL is made of. Michigan’s disabled citizens demand a fully functioning Independent Living program, and an end to charity, exploitation and segregation. NOW!

    Like

  2. Pingback: ** BOYCOTT ** Disability Network Capital Area 40th Anniversary: A Celebration of Sheltered Work | Peer Action Alliance

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