Settlement Agreement: Lyft, Inc.
Lyft on Monday resolved allegations by the federal government that its Los Angeles drivers refused to give rides to disabled people.
A California state appeals court has revived a visually impaired man’s disability discrimination case against San Diego County CU over its website accessibility, an issue that broadly has presented liability issues for credit unions.
The plaintiff who brought the lawsuit in July 2017 has relied on special software that can turn visual information on a computer screen into sound. The complaint, which asserted a claim under California civil rights law, alleged the credit union’s website was incompatible with the software and posed “numerous access barriers.”
California’s Fourth Appellate District on Friday overturned a trial judge who had dismissed the complaint shortly before a scheduled trial. The appeal court’s decision doesn’t resolve the broader question of whether a website is a “public accommodation” within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
The appeals court concluded “ADA Title III liability can attach if the plaintiff shows a connection between the alleged disability discrimination on a website and the plaintiff’s ability to access and/or enjoy the benefits of the entity’s physical location.”
Lawsuits brought under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act alleging website inaccessibility have exploded in recent years. But the rising tide of federal litigation appears to have flattened, according to a recent report from the management-side law firm Seyfarth Shaw. In 2019, there were 2,256 ADA website-accessibility lawsuits filed in federal courts in 2019, just two fewer than the number of complaints filed in 2018. The report did not track the number of ADA-related suits in state courts.
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Struggling businesses that consider ending costly on-the-job disability accommodations during the pandemic face a choice between financial solvency and the risk of discrimination liability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities, unless the accommodations cause an “undue hardship” on a business. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said the pandemic’s financial impact on companies is “relevant” when considering whether an accommodation can be denied because it poses “significant” difficulties or expenses.
Expensive accommodations, such as hiring an interpreter for workers with hearing impairments or a personal assistant for an employee who requires that level of support, or removing physical barriers to ensure workplace accessibility, are less common than those with little to no costs, such as allowing a disabled employee to work a flexible schedule.
For companies struggling to stay in business during the pandemic, continuing costly accommodations can put them in a bind. But denying them could lead to litigation, where they face a high legal threshold for proving the accommodation would lead to undue financial hardship, attorneys said.
“I think any company that’s in this position is much more likely to just figure out a way to make this work, which is what the EEOC would want them to do anyway,” said Jon Zimring, a shareholder with Greenberg Traurig, who advises employers.
Expensive accommodations also have alternatives, said Margaret Nygren, executive director and CEO of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Covid-19 has forced employers to be creative and collaborative when considering reasonable accommodations, which could benefit both parties in financially tight situations, attorneys said.
“Covid hasn’t changed the rules about what you have to do if you experience a business setback,” Nygren said. “The first step is talking about a lower-cost accommodation.”