From mass copyright complaints to web accessibility: one lawyer’s journey

Fifteen years ago, I wrote the following, to considerable skepticism from some ADA advocates, about the idea that online publishers should be legally obliged to make their websites “accessible” to blind, deaf, and other disabled users:

If it’s easy for entrepreneurial litigators to stroll down the main street of a town and find stores vulnerable to an ADA suit because their water fountain or pay phone is at the wrong height, it’s even easier for them to surf the Web and find sites that flunk the most widely accepted disability guidelines. Assuming a court can be found with proper jurisdiction over them, the next logical step is the filing of accessibility complaints by the cartload.

Federal courts were cool toward the idea of obligatory web accessibility, but more recently it has been stirring back to life, in part owing to an Obama administration move to revitalize the idea. And while it’s taken me a while to catch up with the story, it appears that at least one practicing lawyer has indeed spotted a niche for the mass filing of ADA suits against small businesses over their online presence.

That lawyer is Minneapolis-based attorney Paul Hansmeier, who fittingly or otherwise was previously associated with the now-disgraced Prenda Law Group, which engaged in mass copyright complaint filing against computer users recorded as downloading certain X-rated materials. Mike Masnick at TechDirt followed the adventures of Hansmeier and his Class Justice in multiple web-accessibility filing in this 2013 post with sequel and even more entertaining followup (channeling Dan Nienaber, Mankato, Minn., Free Press). Now Tim Cushing at TechDirt reports that Hansmeier is running into a bit of resistance in the form of a counterclaim by one of his targets, Kahler Hotels.

Sixth Circuit smacks EEOC on work-from-home accommodation

An 8-5 decision from (these days) one of the nation’s more liberal circuits in EEOC v. Ford Motor Company:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to reasonably accommodate their disabled employees; it does not endow all disabled persons with a job—or job schedule—of their choosing. Jane Harris, a Ford Motor Company employee with irritable bowel syndrome, sought a job schedule of her choosing: to work from home on an as-needed basis, up to four days per week. Ford denied her request, deeming regular and predictable on-site attendance essential to Harris’s highly interactive job. Ford’s papers andpractices—and Harris’s three past telecommuting failures—backed up its business judgment.

Nevertheless, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Ford under the ADA. It alleged that Ford failed to reasonably accommodate Harris by denying her telecommuting request and retaliated against her for bringing the issue to the EEOC’s attention. The district court granted summary judgment to Ford on both claims. We affirm.

More: Jon Hyman. On the EEOC’s many rebuffs in federal court, see here, here, here, here, etc.

April 22 roundup

CDC’s Frieden in denial about good news on vaping

Actual cigarette smoking among teens, the kind that requires inhaling carcinogenic products of combustion, is down a startling 25 percent in one year and nearly 42 percent since 2011. The reason is the rapid substitution of vaping or e-cigarettes, which hold singular promise as a harm-reduction measure for those drawn to the nicotine habit. Great news, right? Not if you listen to Thomas Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control, who’s doing his best to disguise good tidings as bad so as to stoke the officially encouraged panic about vaping. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera nails Frieden on the issue [h/t @jackshafer], providing a model of appropriately skeptical press scrutiny of someone who hardly ever gets subjected to that. More on Frieden; David Henderson on how FDA hostility to vaping could slow the shift from more-toxic alternatives; related, Greg Gutfeld on California ads trashing e-cigs.

P.S. Andrew Stuttaford thinks Frieden’s not in denial, he knows better.

Miss child support payment, go to jail

And good luck making those payments once you’ve lost your job or license. The Walter Scott shooting in South Carolina has focused belated attention on the “deadbeat-dad” rules crafted variously to please budget hawks, women’s rights advocates, and conservatives, which in practice can pile hopelessly large obligations on low-earning fathers, enforced in some states not only by jailing but also by deprivation of drivers’ and occupational licenses instrumental in earning a living. I’ve got more at Cato at Liberty, following up on New York Times coverage.

Traffic and road law roundup

  • Driver’s license suspensions, which many states use to punish unpaid court debt and other offenses unrelated to driving skill, can accelerate spiral into indigency [New York Times]
  • Your war on distracted driving: woman says she received $200 ticket “for putting on lip balm at a red light.” [KLAS Las Vegas, Nev.]
  • “Of Course We Have No Ticket Quotas, But ….” [Lowering the Bar; Edmundson, Mo., in St. Louis County; Mariah Stewart, Huffington Post on revenue generation in Berkeley, Mo., and other neighboring towns; Scott Greenfield (“Ferguson: Where Everyone’s a Criminal”)]
  • Yet more on St. Louis County: it started with a “defective muffler” stop in Florissant [Riverfront Times]
  • NYC: “Speed cameras lead to surge in tickets and $16.9M in revenue for city” [NY Daily News]
  • New Los Angeles parking signs explain it all for you, also recall design of craps table [Mark Frauenfelder, BoingBoing]
  • Virginia: “How Police Drones and License-Plate Readers Threaten Liberty” [A. Barton Hinkle; related, Jim Harper/D.C. Examiner]

“FBI overstated forensic hair matches in nearly all trials before 2000″

“The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.” The overstatement of forensic matches favored prosecutors. “The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death,” of whom 14 have either died in prison or been executed. “The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt.” [Spencer Hsu, Washington Post]

Labor and employment roundup