Bryan Bashin, a blind camping enthusiast brought suit under the California False Claims Act (CFCA) and California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act after learning that Conduent State & Local Solutions, Inc., had falsely promised the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) that it would deliver a public-facing reservations website that was accessible to blind users. The website, ReserveCalifornia.com, is the portal that controls access to reservations to campsites, cabins, tours, and other activities in all 300 California state parks. Since the launch of the new park-booking website on August 1, 2017, Mr. Bashin, like hundreds of thousands of other blind users, has been effectively shut out of the most desirable state park opportunities.
After many unsuccessful attempts to navigate the website using his screen reader, Mr. Bashin uncovered evidence that Conduent, the private contractor that had been awarded the $66 million DPR contract to design, launch, and maintain DPR’s website, had falsely promised DPR—on multiple occasions—that the website would comply with the rigorous accessibility standards required under the contract and existing law. He shared that evidence with State officials, who deferred to him to litigate the claims in Alameda County Superior Court. Mr. Bashin’s complaint alleges that Conduent’s knowing false statements were material to DPR’s decision to pay the monthly invoices Conduent submitted after the website was launched. It also alleges that Conduent interfered with Mr. Bashin’s access to DPR programs and services, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Unruh Act.
On November 5, 2019, in one of the few opinions nationally on claims such as these, Judge Brad Seligman denied Conduent’s motion to dismiss, holding that Mr. Bashin adequately pled CFCA and Unruh claims, and that the litigation may proceed. Specifically, it holds that the complaint articulates sufficient factual details to support the knowing fraud under the CFCA, and that it states a valid claim of interference under the Unruh Act, which prohibits a private entity from interfering with the rights of a disabled person to receive governmental services. In denying Conduent’s motion, the judge noted that “[h]ere, the interference alleged is manifest—the very website that is the portal to access to the public benefit, is unavailable to persons with disabilities.”
The Relman, Dane & Colfax team is led by Michael Allen and Rebecca Livengood. Tim Elder and Anna Levine of TRE Legal Practice are co-counsel.
State of California ex rel. Bryan Bashin v. Conduent, Inc., No. RG18888208 (Cal. Super. Ct.)
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- San Francisco Chronicle, 05.24.2019