- The Society for Human Resource Management has agreed to pay $221,500 and make accessibility improvements to its professional development offerings (Ruffa, et al v. SHRM, No. 4:21-cv-05549 (N.D. Calif. June 24, 2022)). The settlement agreement resolves a lawsuit in which three plaintiffs alleged the organization failed to comply with public accommodation provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and related laws.
- SHRM agreed to ensure transcripts are available for offerings such as podcasts, and that certain video content is captioned. It also will ensure live transcription and sign language interpreters are provided at conference events detailed in the agreement. Moreover, it will publicize an accommodation policy and train employees on disability accessibility, according to the document.
- SHRM in the settlement agreement said it disputes the claims and agreed to settle the suit “to avoid the risk, uncertainty, inconvenience, and expense of further litigation.” It did not respond to a request for further comment.
Title III of the ADA requires that businesses open to the public meet certain accessibility standards. Similar to Title I, which governs employment, it requires businesses to ensure individuals with disabilities can access goods and services.
For years, stakeholders have questioned whether or how the law — enacted more than 30 years ago — applies to online services. The U.S. Department of Justice, which enforces Title III, takes the position that the law requires web accessibility. Plaintiffs are increasingly active in the space, too: Businesses saw a “whopping” 14% increase in Title III suits from 2020 to 2021, according to attorneys from law firm Seyfarth Shaw. “While these numbers pale by comparison to the explosion of cases we saw from 2017 to 2018 (an increase of 177%),” Kristina Launey and Minh Vu wrote in a March blog post for the firm, “the recent increases are still very significant.”
The SHRM settlement agreement may be good news for HR pros who need accommodations like captioning, transcripts or interpreters. But it also may serve as a warning to other businesses: The ADA and related state and local laws often require accessibility not just for workers but for customers as well. HR pros well-versed in ADA compliance may be in a good position to help other departments understand best practices for disability access.