The Obama administration is looking to become directly involved in a class-action lawsuit that has people with developmental disabilities seeking greater employment opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion last week to intervene in a federal lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of people with developmental disabilities against the state of Oregon. The individuals behind the case allege that the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing supported employment services, which help people with disabilities work in the community.

The first-of-its-kind suit is being closely watched by advocates as the disability community remains split on the appropriate role of sheltered workshops and subminimum wage.

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Plaintiffs in the case argue that they have requested assistance to be able to obtain competitive employment for years with no luck and are trapped in a system where sheltered employment — typically paying less than minimum wage — is their only option.

Now, in a move that could add weight to the proceedings, the Justice Department wants to become a plaintiff as well. In a filing with the court, government attorneys allege that “the state of Oregon discriminates against individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities by unnecessarily segregating them in sheltered workshops and by placing them at risk of such segregation.”

The action comes nearly a year after the Justice Department filed a statement of interest with the court arguing that limiting people with disabilities to employment in sheltered workshops is no different than restricting them to live in institutions.

Attorneys for the federal government say they tried unsuccessfully to work with the state of Oregon to resolve the complaint before asking to intervene.

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