Relman Colfax PLLC is pleased to announce the settlement of innovative litigation aimed at ensuring the accessibility of public agency websites to visitors with disabilities. On November 8, 2023, Judge Evelio Grillo of the Alameda County (CA) Superior Court gave final approval to a settlement valued at more than $2 million. The case was filed against two private sector companies that had contracted with the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to develop a website. The suit alleged that the defendant companies had not complied with California’s rigorous accessibility standards as required by the contract.

On behalf of Bryan Bashin—a blind camping enthusiast and leader in the blindness community—Relman and its co-counsel TRE Legal filed suit under the California False Claims Act (CFCA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Mr. Bashin alleged Conduent State & Local Solutions and its subcontractor US eDirect developed a reservations website for DPR that was nearly impossible for blind campers and other people with disabilities to use. While promising instant and equal access to reserve campsites, cabins and other amenities in more than 300 state park facilities, blind users have not been able to compete for those opportunities because non-disabled users navigated the website easily and booked all of the most sought-after reservations.

Defendants launched the new DPR website and payment system on August 1, 2017. Mr. Bashin discovered immediately that the website had been designed such that he could not convert the textual information on DPR’s website into audible speech using a screen reader that was compatible with thousands of other governmental and commercial websites.

His lawsuit—originally filed in 2018 and later amended—claimed that Defendants knowingly developed an inaccessible website and falsely claimed payment of tens of millions of dollars over a six-year contract with DPR. With an expert, he developed extensive evidence of the inaccessibility and shared that evidence with California officials. When they declined to litigate the CFCA claims, he filed suit on behalf of the State. He also alleged that the defendants’ actions deprived him of access to DPR services in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

After more than two years of intensive discovery, briefing and mediation, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement that received court approval on November 8, 2023. The Agreement provides for defendants to fund an accessibility audit by the nationally renowned firm Prime Access Consulting and requires that US eDirect remediate the website at DPR’s direction so that blind and other disabled users will have equal access to DPR parks and facilities. As part of the landmark settlement, defendants paid a total of $2 million in damages and attorneys’ fees in exchange for a release of claims. That relief places this settlement in the ranks of the largest resolutions of web access litigation in the United States. 

A copy of the Settlement Agreement is available here.

The Relman Colfax litigation team includes Zoila Hinson, Rebecca Livengood, Michael Allen and David DePriest, with paralegal support by Kelis Johnson.

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