Avoiding ADA Lawsuits

An alphabet of federal agencies regularly demonstrates in courts that captioning and ADA compliance is not a suggestion. Comply beyond question to prevent claims and prevail in court.

According to data from law firm Seyfarth Shaw, nearly 5,600 ADA Title III lawsuits were filed in federal court between January 1 and June 30 of this year, representing a 12% increase in suits filed over the same span in 2018. If the lawsuits continue to be filed at the current rate, the number of federal ADA Title III lawsuits filed in 2019 will top 11,000, marking a fifth-straight year of filing increases.

California continues to lead the country with 2,444 federal ADA Title III lawsuits in the first six months of 2019, with New York coming in second with 1,212 such suits. Florida is third with 1,074 federal suits.

Most of the cases concern allegedly inaccessible physical facilities or websites, but Seyfarth says that there also have been a number of lawsuits claiming that hotels are not putting accessibility information on their reservation websites as required by the ADA, as well as others regarding service animals and sign language interpreters.

Training Video CC Trouble

A major multinational retail corporation will pay $100,000 to settle a disability discrimination suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over a lack of closed captioned training videos and sign language interpreters for employees at one of its stores.

The EEOC charged that Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, a subsidiary of Walmart, Inc., refused to provide communication accommodations, such as access to sign language interpreters and closed captioned training videos, to two deaf employees who worked at a Walmart store in Northwest Washington, D.C.

The employees are entitled to “reasonable accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so they are able to participate in and learn from workplace meetings, training sessions, and other communications, the EEOC said.

In addition to paying the settlement, Wal-Mart Stores East will revise its management guidelines for providing reasonable accommodations, provide training to management and employees on ADA requirements and the process for requesting reasonable accommodations, and, most importantly, provide deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and job applicants effective accommodations so they can participate in workplace communications and have equal employment opportunities.

Serial ADA Lawsuit-Filer

Late last month, Federal Judge Paul Huck imposed sanctions on a Miami lawyer who had filed more than 600 ADA suits across Florida.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled that lawyer Scott Dinin and his client, Alexander Johnson, who is deaf, entered into a scheme that “sought only to improperly profit from ill-gotten attorney’s fees obtained by abusing the ADA.

“Johnson and Dinin did so knowingly and continuously file objectively frivolous claims, inflating their claims for attorney’s fees, then sharing those attorney’s fees, and misrepresenting material facts to the court, all without regard for the interests of the hearing-impaired community whom they profess to benefit.”

CC at Gas Pumps?

Dinin and his client have filed more than 130 lawsuits in the federal court’s Southern District, including, recently, suing a South Florida gas station for failure to provide closed captioning on the TV screens embedded in gas pumps.

“Johnson and Dinin have failed to uphold the laudable goals of the ADA and, instead, have used the ADA as a guise for their enterprise with the hidden agenda of sharing unjustified attorney’s fees.”

The court action forces Dinin to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in settlements. It also reports him to the Florida Bar for attorney conduct review. The court also ordered Johnson to pay back the attorney fees he illegally split with Dinin, which represent more than $84,000 since 2016.

Dinin also represented a Daytona Beach resident who is blind in more than 130 lawsuits across Central Florida. Those suits included website accessibility claims against a number of Florida cities and counties and several businesses.

The suits had forced some cities and government bodies to remove information and documents from their websites in a preemptive measure to avoid a lawsuit.

Festival Sued Over Lack of Interpreters

Two California men are suing the Burning Man Project, which produces the annual Burning Man community and arts festival in Nevada, over the group’s decision to drop interpretive services for deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHOH) festival-goers.

The men, who are deaf, claim Burning Man dropped its sign language interpreters program in 2017, and refused to bring it back for the 2019 event. The suit argues that not providing interpreters for DHOH attendees violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

One of the plaintiffs, Melvin Patterson, has attended Burning Man since 2012, and has worked as a “Black Rock Ranger,” a volunteer group that assists festival-goers and provides public safety information. The suit says that without interpreters, Patterson could not communicate with fellow rangers.

The suit asks for ASL interpreters to be provided at the festival and for Burning Man to “implement policies and procedures that will ensure effective communication, full and equal enjoyment, and a meaningful opportunity to participate in and benefit from [Burning Man] services” for all attendees.

Candidate Website Accessibility Update

Though several candidates in the race for the 2020 Presidential election have worked to improve their websites’ accessibility, none have adopted all of the accessibility standards suggested by a Florida advocacy group.

In June, the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired reviewed the websites of Democratic presidential candidates as well as that of President Donald Trump and found none to be fully accessible to voters with disabilities.

“Since that first debate, we have continued to follow the progress of the presidential candidates to make their websites more accessible,” Miami Lighthouse said in its report. “Since our first report, still none of the websites are fully compliant with the ADA, but most of the candidates’ websites showed improvements in accessibility.”

The organization’s newest report says that the websites of candidates Andrew Yang, Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg have increased their accessibility scores.

Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired is Florida’s largest and oldest organization serving the needs of blind and low-vision individuals.

Information provided by David Titmus, Public Relations Manager, Vitac.

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