The American Bar Association honored Marjorie L. Rifkin, Of Counsel at the public interest law firm Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP, with its Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights. The award, co-sponsored by Starbucks Coffee Co., as well as the Champions for Disability Inclusion Award, was presented at the Diversity Center Awards Presentation on February 19, 2021, along with the Council for Diversity in the Educational Pipeline’s 2021 Alexander Award to the Law and Leadership Institute, and acknowledgment of the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession's honorees for the 2021 Spirit of Excellence Awards.
The ABA Commission on Disability Rights selected Rifkin for devoting her 30-year legal career, including over twenty years with Disability Rights D.C. at University Legal Services, to advocate for the rights of disabled individuals facing unconstitutional, discriminatory and unnecessary institutionalization in prisons and nursing facilities, and inaccessible housing, governmental services and public accommodations. For decades, she has fought tirelessly so that disabled individuals can live with dignity and self-direction, and wholeheartedly pursue their hopes and dreams. She has also fought to ensure that the nation’s disabilities laws are more than theoretical safeguards.
Rifkin began her legal career in 1990 with the Legal Aid Society Criminal Defense Division in New York City, representing indigent criminal defendants and advocating for alternatives to incarceration. She then moved to litigating prisoners’ rights cases for the ACLU National Prison Project challenging conditions of confinement, including second-chairing two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. After she left the ACLU in 1999, Rifkin worked with the National Council on Disability and the Open Society Institute in Baltimore, before joining Disability Rights DC at University Legal Services in 2000 (DRDC), where she served for the last 15 years as Managing Attorney. In that role, she successfully litigated a class action case against the District of Columbia Housing Authority under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, resulting in a consent order requiring nearly 600 wheelchair-accessible public housing units. In 2020, Rifkin joined Terris, Pravlik & Millian, where she continues to co-counsel disability rights litigation, demonstrating her commitment to disability rights. In Brown v. District of Columbia, Rifkin, alongside the AARP Foundation and DRDC, continues to represent over 4,000 nursing facility residents seeking to transition to the community with DC Medicaid long-term care under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Denise R. Avant, CDR Chair, says: “Marjorie’s unwavering and longstanding commitment to ensure that disabled individuals are treated as equal in the eyes of the law and can live with dignity and self-direction in their home community and pursue their hopes and dreams exemplifies the values espoused by Paul Hearne. Marjorie’s vigorous advocacy and her mentorship of the next generation of disability advocates truly elevates our profession.”