ADA in the News October 21, 2020

Court rules majority of NYC traffic signals violate Americans with Disabilities Act

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that New York City has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not installing accessible pedestrian signals for the blind.

The lawsuit, brought by the the American Council of the Blind in 2018, sued on behalf of plaintiffs Michael Golfo and Christina Curry, claiming that of the city’s 13,000 pedestrian traffic signals, just over 2 percent convey information in a way that is accessible to blind pedestrians.

Approximately 205,000 blind or otherwise visually-impaired people live in the city.

“When pedestrian signals do not give blind and deaf-blind pedestrians the same information that sighted pedestrians receive, their safety and independence is at risk,” the lawsuit stated.

In a Tuesday ruling, District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer ruled the current “near-total absence” of accessible crossing information violates the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the federal disability law that preceded the ADA.

Engelmayer’s ruling notes that blind pedestrians in New York will typically stop at the curb and assume they are at a point where they can cross the street. Without any accessible indicator of a crossing, however, blind pedestrians cross somewhere other than the crosswalk 30 percent of the time. This leaves them to rely on other auditory cues, which is prohibitively difficult with New York’s level of ambient noise.

“[T]he Court holds that the absence of non-visual crossing information at more than 95% of the City’s signalized intersections denies plaintiffs meaningful access to the City’s signalized intersections and the pedestrian grid, in violation of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act,” Engelmayer wrote.

“The Court further holds that some, but not all, of the City’s projects with respect to traffic signals gave rise to a duty under these statutes to add APS [Accessible Pedestrian Signals]—a duty that the City has largely breached.”

Although the city has the option to argue that installing further APS would be overly burdensome, “the City has not met—or even attempted to meet—its burden of showing that the installation of additional APS would constitute an undue financial or administrative burden or fundamentally alter the nature of any City service, program, or activity,” he added. 

Conduent to Pay $77,500 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

Conduent Business Services, LLC, a technology-based business services company headquartered in Florham Park, N.J., will pay $77,500 and provide other relief to settle a disability dis­crim­ination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced today.

The EEOC’s lawsuit charged that Conduent violated federal anti-discrimination law when it refused to interview and hire a qualified deaf applicant. According to the EEOC’s complaint, the appli­cant applied for a corporate development associate position at Conduent through a recruiting firm. Conduent expressed an interest in interviewing him, but then eliminated him from consideration after the recruiting firm said he would need an American Sign Language interpreter.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which pro­hibits employers from discriminating based on disability. The EEOC sued Conduent in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey (EEOC v. Conduent Business Services, LLC, Case No. 2:19-cv-18541) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The case was litigated by EEOC Trial Attorney Adela Santos and Supervisory Trial Attorney Nora Curtin.

In addition to the $77,500 payment to the applicant, the consent decree entered by Judge Claire Cecchi requires amendment of the company’s reasonable accommodation policy and training on the ADA. It also prohibits disability discrimination and retaliation. The EEOC will monitor Conduent’s compliance for the next two years.

“The ADA prohibits limiting the opportunities of qualified job applicants with a disability to compete for employment,” said Jeffrey Burstein, regional attorney for EEOC’s New York District. “Employers must provide interpreters and other reasonable accommodations to deaf applicants when they interview for a job.”

Judy Keenan of the EEOC’s New York District Office, added, “Removing barriers in the hiring process that discriminate against individuals with disabilities is a national priority for the EEOC.”

Conduent employs about 68,000 people at dozens of locations around the world.

Bipolar IDOT geologist, assigned to clerical job after leave, advances retaliation, accommodation claims

Granting summary judgment in part against the ADA and Title VII retaliation claims of an Hispanic Illinois Department of Transportation geologist who suffered from bipolar disorder, a federal district court in Illinois found that while his discrimination charge was protected activity, IDOT's subsequent failure to timely act on his accommodation requests and his supervisor's angry tirade about his attendance did not constitute materially adverse actions. But fact issues existed, said the court, as to why IDOT, upon his return from leave, offered him a clerical job rather than an open geologist position so summary judgment based on that claim was denied. His failure-to-accommodate claim also advanced. (Camacho v Illinois Department of Transportation, CDIll, October 13, 2020, Mills, R.)

Paramedic's job 'burnout' was not FMLA qualifying condition
A paramedic who claimed he suffered from "burn out or chronic fatigue" as a result of having to work double shifts due to a staffing shortage, and who told his supervisor he "couldn't do it anymore" and was turning in his gear, failed to show he had a serious health condition that entitled him to FMLA leave or that he provided sufficient notice to his municipal employer of a need for leave, a federal district court in Alabama ruled, granting summary judgment against his interference claim. Nor could he show he was constructively discharged, said the court, finding it clear he voluntarily resigned. His FMLA retaliation claim failed as well. ( Blake v City of Montgomery, Alabama, MDAla, October 6, 2020, Huffaker, R., Jr.)

Legal expert tackles tricky ADA, COVID-19 questions

A lot of employers are struggling with all the unknowns of COVID-19.

How long will you need to take these precautions in the workplace? What do you do when an employee comes down with the virus? What are your legal obligations?

Employment lawyer David K. Fram of the National Employment Law Institute tells employers it doesn’t have to be as complicated as they think.

Academy Spotlights Filmmakers with Disabilities with Virtual Program in Honor of ADA 30th Anniversary

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present a special virtual program titled “ACCESSABILITY/VISABILITY: Breaking Down the Barriers for People with Disabilities in Media,” featuring conversations with filmmakers with disabilities examining the struggles and successes of the disabled community in Hollywood.  With a welcome by Academy governor and Oscar®-winning actor Whoopi Goldberg and hosted by Oscar-winning actor Marlee Matlin, the three-panel event will be available on beginning October 26 at 5 pm.

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