On April 3, 2020, the Office for Civil Rights continued its guidance on how institutions can implement distance learning while complying with federal civil rights laws. This guidance is timely because distance learning due to COVID-19 is redefining how most educational institutions operate. When all levels of academic institutions had to close their doors due to stay-at-home orders, many of them opened the proverbial window by turning to online education. Despite its increasing popularity over the past decade or so, distance learning remains an emerging landscape for many institutions as they navigate purchasing/installing new technology, implementing new methods of teaching, and ensuring connectivity with students. OCR’s guidance provides a roadmap to this new territory.
In response to a complaint from disability advocacy groups in Washington state regarding health care rationing, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights (OCR) issued a reminder to entities covered by federal civil rights statutes of their ongoing obligation, amid the COVID-19 crisis, to prohibit discrimination on the base of race, color, national origin, age, religion, sex, and disability. OCR is responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The bulletin reminds covered entities that “persons with disabilities should not be denied medical care based on stereotypes, assessments of quality of life, or judgments about a person’s relative ‘worth’ based on the presence or absence of disabilities.”
To read the full text of this post by Duane Morris partner Colin Knisely, please visit the Duane Morris Coronavirus (COVID-19) Blog.
As with all crises, this pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that is forcing schools to quickly implement new policies and practices, often operating on limited information and without the usual procedural safeguards and vetting. Such an environment creates a risk of the unintended consequences of those new policies/procedures being overlooked, resulting in potentially discriminatory effects to students.
On October 7, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an order denying certiorari in Domino’s Pizza, LLC v. Robles, a case that would have required the Supreme Court to determine the application of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to websites and mobile applications. The Supreme Court’s order means a Ninth Circuit decision applying Title III to websites and mobile apps will stand, even in the absence of Department of Justice-promulgated regulations outlining applicable compliance standards.
On September 1, 2016, Guillermo Robles, who is visually impaired, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He alleged that Domino’s website and mobile app were incompatible with his chosen screen-reading software, and thus violated Title III of the ADA, among other statutes. Domino’s moved for summary judgment, in part on the basis that Title III of the ADA does not extend to its website or mobile app. The District Court found that Title III did apply to Domino’s website and app, but granted summary judgment on the grounds that imposing liability on Domino’s without clear standards for satisfying Title III obligations would violate the company’s due process rights. Robles then appealed.
Disability discrimination lawsuits against hospitals have become relatively common in recent years. For example, Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits have been filed against hospitals and other healthcare providers, claiming that their websites or parking lots do not adequately accommodate those with disabilities. But few, if any, major lawsuits have alleged that the facilities themselves fail to accommodate patients with physical disabilities. That may have changed with a putative class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in late July, which may be the first of many cases to come.
Read the full story on the Duane Morris LLP website.
On August 23, 2019, Senior Judge Paul Huck of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida imposed severe sanctions—including two $59,900 penalties and an injunction prohibiting future filings without leave of court—on well-known Florida plaintiffs’ lawyer Scott R. Dinin and his client, serial plaintiff Alexander Johnson, after concluding Dinin and Johnson conspired to file frivolous claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Florida Civil Rights Act (FCRA), inflated recoverable attorney’s fees, and unethically shared in the profits of their scheme.
The Court’s searing order stems from a series of complaints Dinin filed on Johnson’s behalf against gas station owners in southern Florida. In the pleadings, Johnson alleged the owners’ failed to include close captioning on the news and entertainment videos playing on their stations’ pumps, and thereby violated his rights under Title III of the ADA and the FCRA. The owners did not respond to Johnson’s pleading and the Court held a hearing after Johnson, through Dinin, moved for default judgment. At that hearing, the Court concluded that Dinin had “egregiously inflated and misrepresented” his claimed fees and that Johnson’s FCRA claim was frivolous because Johnson pursued it notwithstanding his knowledge that it was procedurally defective. The Court subsequently convened a hearing on July 22, 2019, for Dinin and Johnson to show cause why sanctions should not issue.