Sanchez v. Johnson

The lawsuit challenged the State’s failure to increase wages of direct care workers for persons with disabilities residing in the community, resulting in turnover in excess of 50 percent a year. California had increased rates paid to community providers for wages insubstantially since 1989. As a result, workers in community facilities are paid 54 percent of what similar workers in California’s institutions are paid. Only two states in the nation paid less per person than California for Medicaid Home and Community Based Services.

The Court was asked to consider two questions: whether developmentally disabled recipients of Medicaid funds and their service providers have a private right of action against state officials to compel the enforcement of a federal law governing state disbursement of such funds and whether the State of California has unlawfully discriminated by paying community-based service providers lower wages and benefits than it pays employees in state institutions.

The lawsuit alleged that as a consequence of the state’s systematic under-funding of community services for persons with developmental disabilities, low wages and benefits are paid to community workers, such that adequate community-based services are in short supply or unavailable, thereby forcing institutionalization upon people who would be otherwise capable of living in the community. Plaintiffs wanted the state to set payments for community services so that direct care staff will earn a competitive wage substantially equal to the wages of their counterparts in state institutions.

On August 2, 2005, the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals issued a disappointing opinion in Sanchez v. Johnson.

The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia