- Software company Epic Systems cannot be held liable for its product's inaccessibility to a hospital employee with a disability, a federal district court has ruled (The National Federation of the Blind, Inc. v. Epic Systems Corporation, No. 18-12630 (D. Mass. Jan. 31, 2020)).
- The National Federation of the Blind sued Epic, a healthcare software company, claiming that its software is inaccessible to blind users, in violation of Massachusetts law. Specifically, a Brigham and Women's Hospital employee was twice placed on paid leave while the employer worked to make its system accessible.
- The court, however, said Epic "simply sold and licensed its software" and was not using any specific employment practice or selection criteria. "Epic's knowing sale of software that is inaccessible to blind users is not enough to trigger liability for its customers' treatment of their blind employees," said the court.
While NFB dealt with state law and was, at least for now, resolved in the defendant's favor, it carries some lessons for employers nationwide.
Employers must be mindful of accessibility issues not just for employees and applicants, but oftentimes for customers as well.
Title III of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires places of "public accommodation" — such as restaurants, hotels, doctors' offices, retail stores, private schools and libraries — to remove barriers to access for individuals with disabilities. While sometimes the means of doing this is fairly straightforward, such as granting access to service animals, the requirements can be complicated when it comes to digital accessibility.
Unfortunately, according to a recent ABA Journal article, clear guidance is absent and is unlikely to be released anytime soon. In the meantime, experts suggest, public accommodations can look to the best practices spelled out in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
For employees and applicants with disabilities, web access issues are guided by the standard ADA rules and considerations: A reasonable accommodation must be provided to a qualified individual with a disability, unless it would create an undue hardship for the employer. This could include modifications or adjustments to a job, or the way it is performed, so the individual can perform the essential functions.