Minnesota State Prisons Discriminate Against Multiple Deaf Inmates

February 27, 2018

Saint Paul, MN – Five Deaf individuals served a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections on February 26, 2018 for violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act for disability discrimination and retaliation.

Plaintiffs Brian Rinkel, Kevin Adams, and Michael Sherman are persons currently being held as inmates in Minnesota state prisons operated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (MN DOC). Plaintiff Eric Jaeger is a person who, until October 2017, was held as an inmate in Minnesota state prisons operated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. All of the Plaintiffs are persons who are deaf. Tiffany Gagner is the fiance to Brian Rinkel. She is also deaf.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections failed to provide Plaintiffs with full and equal access to the services, programs and activities that it provides to other inmates in Minnesota state prison facilities. Among other services, it has failed to provide Plaintiffs equal access to telephone communications with friends and family, confidential telephone communication with legal counsel, access to educational and recreational programs Defendant provides through JPay Tablets it provides to inmates; and everyday announcements and notifications the DOC makes to all inmates.

For approximately two years, Defendant responded to Plaintiffs’ complaints concerning the barriers to equal telephone communications at the prisons by telling Plaintiffs and other advocates for and representatives of people who are deaf in Minnesota that it will install video communication services in all state prisons in Minnesota. However, during this period, Defendant did not take adequate actions to provide video telecommunications services Plaintiffs could use while Defendant negotiated a final contract with a video telecommunications vendor and installed the video communication system.

Defendant finally made video communication devices available in some Minnesota prisons beginning in approximately November – December 2017. Defendant made video communication devices available for inmates at MCF – Faribault beginning in approximately December 2017, and at MCF – Lino Lakes beginning in approximately January 2018. Defendant still has not made video communication devices available at MCF – Rush City, MCF – Stillwater or other Minnesota state prisons.

Plaintiff Tiffany Gagner, a woman who is deaf, is the fiancé of Brian Rinkel. Defendant’s failure to provide Brian Rinkel with an effective video communications service has deprived Ms. Gagner of equal access to and benefits from Defendant’s prison telephone service by denying her the ability to have an effective communication with Mr. Rinkel, using their primary language (ASL).

Plaintiffs bring this action pursuant to the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) (Minn. Stat. § 363A.12). They bring this action to obtain all damages declaratory relief and injunctive relief provided by the law. Plaintiffs also seek to recover statutory attorney’s fees incurred in bringing this action.

The Minnesota Disability Law Center is

Gilbert Law PLLC is a Minnesota civil rights law firm with ASL fluent attorneys committed to advancing the rights of persons with disabilities.


Roderick Macpherson

Justin Page

Heather M. Gilbert, Gilbert Law PLLC, 651-340-9642 heather@gilbertlawpllc.com