In one of the first decisions of its kind, a California state court has allowed a whistleblower complaint to proceed against a Fortune 500 company for falsely promising to 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, and has remained inaccessible since its delivery to DPR in August 2017.
On November 5, 2019, in a case in which Relman, Dane & Colfax and TRE Legal Practice are co-counsel, the Hon. Brad Seligman overruled a demurrer (California equivalent of a motion to dismiss) filed by Conduent State & Local Solutions, Inc., holding that the plaintiff had adequately pleaded claims under the California False Claims Act (CFCA) and Unruh Civil Rights Act, and that the litigation may proceed.
The Plaintiff, Bryan Bashin, is a blind camping enthusiast who relies on a screen reader to navigate the Internet. He 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 repeatedly promised DPR that the website would comply with the rigorous accessibility standards required under the contract and existing law.
Judge Seligman’s opinion finds that Mr. Bashin had articulated sufficient factual details to support the knowing fraud under the CFCA, and that he had stated 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.” This ruling is one of the first decisions in California state courts to address such an interference claim.
The case will now proceed through discovery to a trial on the underlying claims.
The Relman, Dane & Colfax team is led by Michael Allen and Rebecca Livengood.