Lawsuits & Settlement Agreements

Title III of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) is all about ensuring that places of public accommodation are accessible to people with disabilities.  Is the Internet a place of public accommodation? That is the question that has been asked over the past few years and argued about in court.

Today there is no specific published technical recommendation that defines how the ADA is applied to the Internet but many public and private sector organizations have been sued for the inaccessibility of their websites under the ADA.

A recent article by the Wall Street Journal brings attention to the growing number of lawsuits being filed against businesses under the ADA due to inaccessible websites.  The Internet has become a way of doing business and is no different than a physical store in many ways.   The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently reviewing the ADA and is expected to issue new regulations on website accessibility later this year that will take a much broader view of the ADA’s jurisdiction over websites. 

Read the full article, Disabled Sue Over Web Shopping.

A class action lawsuit was filed against Marriott for allegedly discriminating against employees with disabilities because the hotel chain’s software is inaccessible and no alternatives are provided. The lawsuit was based on a Marriott blind employee who is unable to use the hotel’s Sales Force Automation (SFA) software program with his screen reader. Consequently, he cannot advance to a managerial position. To learn more, read Lawsuit Claims Discrimination against Blind Employees (PDF).

Attorney General Martha Coakley, Monster Worldwide, Inc. and National Federation of the Blind (NFB) announced on Wednesday January 30, 2013 that Monster.com will be the first job search and recruitment website in the industry to provide job seekers who are blind with full and equal access to all of its products and services including mobile applications.

“Unemployment and underemployment in the blind community are significant problems and given the extent to which computers and the Internet have become integral to our daily lives, it is essential that websites are accessible to everyone,” AG Coakley said. “We are pleased to have worked with the NFB and Monster to make the company’s valuable products and services accessible and to provide better employment opportunities to job seekers who are blind, visually impaired or have other print disabilities such as dyslexia.  We are hopeful that with the ability to access written information in an audible text to speech format, these users will now have access to jobs, and better jobs, than ever before.  We want technology to improve people’s lives, not create obstacles or barriers.”

This announcement is a result of the agreement with AG’s Office and the NFB.  As part of this settlement agreement, Monster Worldwide will:

  • Contribute $50,000 to the Commonwealth to fund the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind’s (MCB) job internship program
  • Provide $50,000 to serve as the title sponsor of the NFB’s annual convention in 2013
  • Monster will make its desktop and mobile websites fully and equally accessible
  • Mobile applications will be made accessible within two years
  • Monster will ensure that the templates employers use to post job advertisements on its site will be fully and equally accessible within six months
  • Monster will also train its customer service representatives to assist users who are blind and will establish a standing committee to oversee implementation of the agreement and other issues related to accessibility in the future
  • Monster has also agreed to work with the NFB to encourage higher education programs to incorporate accessible design and assistive technology in to their core curricula

Read the full press release, Monster.com First in Industry to Make Website Accessible for Blind Users.

Netflix agrees to provide captioning for all video content on their website. This ends class-action lawsuit that National Association for the Deaf (NAD) filed in 2010, claiming that Netflix's website was a "place of public accommodation" that was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Netflix spent a fair amount of time trying to get the lawsuit kicked out saying that the ADA didn't apply in this case, because it was superseded by a new law directing the FCC to set rules for online captioning. In June, Netflix definitively lost that argument, when a Massachusetts federal judge ruled (PDF) that the new law was meant to "complement, not supplant" the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Netflix Agreement

Netflix has agreed to:

  • Speedily caption new content - Netflix will put captions on new content within 30 days by 2014; within 14 days by 2015 and within 7 days by 2016
  • Netflix currently provides service on more than 1,000 devices and its captioning service works on most, but not all, of those.  In this agreement, they promise to make "good faith, diligent efforts" to get it working on all devices but is not obligated to get it 100% device compatible.
  • Netflix will pay $755,000 to plaintiffs' lawyers who prosecuted the lawsuit, as well as $40,000 for the decree to be implemented over the next four years.

Netflix Settlement Documents & Articles

In June, a Massachusetts judge ruled that a lawsuit can go forward against Netflix to provide captions for its Watch Instantly streaming content. Netflix hoped to get the suit, brought by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and others, thrown out of court. But Federal District Court Judge Michael Ponsor disagreed.

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