Lawsuits & Settlement Agreements

The target of a new class action lawsuit claiming it failed to equitably find rides for people with disabilities, Lyft has opted to defend itself by claiming it is not in the transportation business and that ADA regulations do not apply to its services. An additional lawsuit against the firm originating from the Bay area also alleges it discriminates against people with disabilities, but Lyft has stayed mum on its strategy for disputing that charge.

Much of the NYC subway stations are inaccessible to people with disabilities, a situation that has resulted in multiple lawsuits against the MTA. Services like Access-A-Ride exist to help bridge the gap in public transportation options for people with limited mobility, and riders are charged what they would pay for a ride on the subway: $2.75. However, the MTA is considering a fare hike of $.25 per ride, which would no doubt impact people with disabilities more than the average New Yorker, given that they often live on fixed incomes. The disability community is split on whether the fare hike should extend to services like Access-A-Ride: many feel they should not be treated differently from anyone else, but others are concerned with the financial impact on a vulnerable group.

Concerned with the rapidly increasing number of accessibility lawsuits filed in the US, two Iowa senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, have asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate how exactly the ADA applies to web accessibility. In a letter co-authored by contemporaries in four other states, they wrote “At this time, the lack of regulatory clarity benefits only the plaintiffs’ lawyers...Clarity in the law will encourage private investment in technology and other measures that will improve conditions for the disabled.” While it is widely accepted (and repeatedly upheld by the DOJ) that website accessibility falls under Title II and III of the ADA, the lack of specific language regarding digital accessibility has promulgated a gray area that leads to frustration for both defendants and plaintiffs. 

On August 19, legally blind plaintiff Himelda Mendez filed a lawsuit against Apple, alleging an inability to navigate Apple’s site due to multiple WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) violations. One noted infraction was the absence of alternative text on images and links. As many visually impaired individuals use a screen reader to navigate websites, missing “alt-text” poses a huge barrier to site accessibility–screen readers are only as helpful as the text they can find to read.

Apple has been a long-standing proponent of accessibility practices; its products are all intentionally designed to be used by people with a wide range of physical abilities. If Mendez’s claim turns out to be accurate, this lawsuit could tarnish its sterling brand and discredit its many advances in the field of accessible technology. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on December 26, 2017, that it has officially withdrawn its two Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) related to website accessibility: one under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applicable to state and local governments and one under Title III applicable to private businesses open to the public. The DOJ’s purported basis for the withdrawal of these two ANPRMs is to evaluate whether promulgating regulations about the accessibility of web information and services is “necessary and appropriate.”  Such evaluation “will be informed by additional review of data and further analysis.” The DOJ “will continue to assess whether specific technical standards are necessary and appropriate to assist covered entities with complying with the ADA.”

The announcement withdrawing the regulations follows the July 2017 decision to place the Title III regulations on the “inactive list” and ends efforts that started with the release of the ANPRM in 2010.

The withdrawal of these ANPRMs means continued uncertainty for website owners and operators as to the benchmarks that must be met to comply with the ADA, if any.

Kmart, Empire Today and Ace Hardware have all been accused of having websites that allegedly cannot be used by individuals who are visually impaired. Lawsuits have been filed by a California woman that alleges the companies are running websites and mobile apps that people who are blind and visually impaired can’t read, meaning they are denying potential customers access to products and services, a violation of the ADA.

See the Chicago Tribune article for more information

For the first time the Unified Regulatory Agenda breaks out all agency regulatory action into three categories:

  • Active
  • Long-term
  • Inactive

The agenda does not define these terms. However, it appears only the active and long-term matters receive a description and project deadlines.

This is the Trump Administration’s first Agenda and it reveals DOJ has placed web accessibility among other things under Title II and III of the ADA on the Inactive List.

Read more on the Unified Regulatory Agenda on the ADA Title III Blog

Structured Negotiation: A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits –is now available for purchase from the American Bar Association in print and accessible digital format. Visit the ABA website to buy the book. Use code LFLEGAL10 for a 10% discount off the purchase price.  For print-disabled readers, the book is available on Bookshare. More information about the book can be found on Lainey Feingold’s website.

"Structured Negotiationis a nuts and bolts guide to resolving claims without lawsuits in the collaborative and cost-effective method that my clients, colleagues and I have used for two decades," said Mrs. Feingold. She continues explaining, "Organizations that have signed agreements in Structured Negotiation (no lawsuits) include Major League Baseball, Walmart, Bank of America, the City and County of San Francisco, CVS, Anthem, Inc. and dozens of others. The book is full of stories about the people in the blind community and the accessible technology and information issues we have worked on (including web and mobile accessibility) in this dispute resolution process."

TheStructured Negotiation book is for lawyers, advocates, corporate, government, and accessibility champions, and clients frustrated with the conflict, procedures, stress, and run-away costs that typically accompany a filed case.  It has much to offer mediators, students of dispute resolution, and colleagues in the disability and accessibility communities.  Early praise includes the following

"As one of America’s leading civil rights lawyers, Lainey Feingold uses Structured Negotiation to obtain far-reaching settlements without litigation. Now she shares her secrets. This book should be required reading for lawyers and law students alike." Samuel R. Bagenstos, Frank G. Millard Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School; Former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights
"Lainey Feingold’s thoughtful and experienced-based distillation of her new approach to resolving disputes through Structured Negotiation has the potential to make a major impact on how we resolve disputes. Bearing strong similarities to Collaborative Law, and integrating well with mediation, the Structured Negotiation model provides a detailed roadmap for principled peacemaking in complex cases."—David Hoffman, Esq., Founder, Boston Law Collaborative, LLC; John H. Watson, Jr. Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School
"If you are a lawyer, an advocate or a person who would like to learn how to reduce conflict in situations where people share vastly different perspectives, you’ve got to read this book." — Jessie Lorenz, Structured Negotiation participant; Executive Director, Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco
"Structured Negotiation has a reach far beyond the legal world.  Imagine if routine business and design challenges were solved with a process that assumed the win-win outcomes described in this book. Lainey’s focus on cooperation, collaboration, and problem-solving points the way to a world designed for everyone."–Whitney Quesenbery – Director, Center for Civic Design; co-Author, A Web for Everyone | Designing Accessible User Experiences

Litigation plays a crucial role in enforcing rights, and sometimes it is the best or only option. But when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Structured Negotiation offers a different set of tools. It is my hope that this book will teach readers how to use them, motivated by the Structured Negotiation success stories I am honored to share.

Scheduled Book Events:

  • Sunday October 16 (2:00 - 4:00):  Book launch and celebration at Ed Roberts Center, Berkeley CA
  • Tuesday, November 15 (5:30 - 6:30, reception following):  Harvard Program on Negotiation Book Talk, Cambridge, MA

Need more details?  Know an audience interested in having Mrs. Feingold speak about the book (or about digital accessibility that has been the subject of so much Structured Negotiation work)? Please let her know.  You can also visit the speaking page of Lainey Feingold’s website to read about upcoming events.

Read more about the book on Lainey Feingold’s website

Buy the book on the ABA website.  Use code LFLEGAL10 for 10% off the purchase price

Registered with Bookshare? Visit the Bookshare page for the Structured Negotiation book

Lainey Fingold will be speaking at the Harvard Law School campus about her new book — Structured Negotiation:  A Winning Alternative to Lawsuits — on Tuesday, November 15, at 5:30 – 6:30 pm. Paul Parravano, Co-Director, Government and Community Relations in the Office of the President at MIT will also be there to talk about his role as a claimant in two successful Structured Negotiations (with American Express and the nation’s three top credit unions) and the ways in which Structured Negotiation successes have impacted his life as a blind professional. There will be a light reception following the talk.

The talk is part of the speakers series sponsored by the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation. Here is More information about the book.

Read the advanced praise.


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