ADA Round-Up: SiriusXM Podcast Settlement, Federal Tech Accessibility Standards Discussed

Nov 29 2023 VITAC
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Welcome to the latest edition of “ADA in the News,” featuring recent updates and rulings regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act.

SiriusXM Close to Settlement Over Podcast Transcripts?

Nearly two years after SiriusXM was sued by members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community for failing to make its podcast transcripts available, a report suggests that the sides may be close to an out-of-court settlement.

An article on reports that an attorney for SiriusXM, in a letter to the court earlier this month, noted that sides have discussed a possible settlement and asked the judge to delay filing deadlines in the case until Jan. 31, 2024. The letter noted that SiriusXM is “open to mediation” before a magistrate judge if the plaintiffs in the case think it would help.

In December 2021, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) filed a lawsuit on behalf of five members of the deaf community against three major providers of podcasts − SiriusXM, Stitcher, and Pandora − for failing to provide captioning and transcripts for “the vast majority” of their podcasts.

The lawsuit argued that SiriusXM and its subsidiaries Pandora and Stitcher were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and New York state law for failing to make their podcast streams accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing users. Because of this, the suit notes that more than 48 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans were denied full and equal enjoyment of the content they offered their hearing users.

The lawsuit seeks compensatory damages and an injunction requiring the companies to provide transcripts for all their podcast content and to bring their websites into compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines standards for digital accessibility.

Read here for more information on accessible podcasts and transcripts.

Papa John’s Pizza Settles Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

Papa John’s Pizza has agreed to pay $175,000 and provide other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

According to the suit, Michael Barnes, who is legally blind and relies on his service dog for his commute, applied for a job at an Athens, Georgia, Papa John’s. Barnes was hired but could not start until his accommodation request to bring his service dog was formally granted by Papa John’s. The restaurant, however, denied Barnes’s accommodation request and fired him before he worked his first shift. Such conduct violates the ADA.

Under the two-year consent decree resolving the lawsuit, Papa John’s will pay $175,000 in monetary damages to Barnes, train its employees on the ADA, review its employment policies, and allow the EEOC to monitor complaints of discrimination or retaliation.

“Not allowing blind and visually impaired people to travel to and from work in the way that affords them confidence and independence is akin to telling sighted workers who rely on the flexibility and independence of driving that they may not travel to work by car,” said EEOC General Counsel Karla Gilbride. “We are glad that Papa John’s has agreed to provide training to its employees and hope that in the future, no other job applicant who uses a service dog will experience the discrimination that Mr. Barnes faced.”

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OMB Policy on Federal Technology Accessibility

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced earlier this month that it is finalizing guidance to ensure federal technology meets government-wide accessibility standards for individuals with disabilities.

The guidance would help all internal and public-facing federal software, hardware, and digital services meet Section 508 standards set by the U.S. Access Board.

The Office of Management and Budget assists the President of the United States in meeting policy, budget, management, and regulatory objectives.

The OMB guidance has been in the development stages for more than a year.

Federal Chief Information Officer Clare Martorana said a government-wide Section 508 assessment also is underway and expected to be complete by the end of year. The results of that assessment, Martorana said, will serve as a baseline for how agencies are already implementing Section 508 and prioritizing digital accessibility.

Recent data collected by the OMB and the General Services Administration show that more than 62% of federal websites have at least one accessibility issue. Additionally, a U.S. Department of Justice report on agencies meeting Section 508 requirements found that less than half of the public-facing websites at the Departments of Agriculture, Labor, State, and Veterans Affairs comply.

Union Pacific Railroad Sued for Disability Discrimination

The EEOC is suing Union Pacific Railroad for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the lawsuit, the railroad used “unlawful qualification standards” that improperly screened out qualified conductors and locomotive engineers for perceived disabilities.

According to the EEOC, Union Pacific requires regular vision tests from its conductors and engineers. The tests are part of the Federal Railroad Administration’s certification standards. However, the railroad also began administering a “light cannon” test, which the suit claims does not simulate real-world conditions and is not representative of a person’s ability to interpret railway signals.

The involved employees all passed the initial screening or provided medical documentation indicating their ability to determine colors and perform their jobs. When they didn’t pass the light cannon test, Union Pacific placed them on leave, effectively terminating their employment.

“Everyone wants railroads to be safe,” said Gregory Gochanour, a regional attorney with the EEOC. “However, firing qualified, experienced employees for failing an invalid test of color vision does nothing to promote safety and violates the ADA.”