ACB Joins Class Action Suit Against GSA Over Inaccessible Web Site

Katie N. Schrack
Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP

Eric Bridges
American Council of the Blind

Matthew Handley
Washington Lawyers' Committee

Sutherland and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs File Class Action Against General Services Administration on Behalf of Blind Federal Contractors and the American Council of the Blind
WASHINGTON (April 22, 2014) The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP announced today that they have filed a class action on behalf of blind federal contractors and the American Council of the Blind against the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal executive branch agency responsible for administering the federal government’s non-defense contracts. The complaint, filed in federal district court in the District of Columbia, alleges that GSA has failed to provide a website accessible to blind federal contractors who must register and annually renew their federal contractor registration.  The complaint names three individual federal contractors and the American Council of the Blind as plaintiffs. 
GSA is responsible for ensuring that recipients of federal funding comply with the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits both the federal government and recipients of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of disability, including blindness.  GSA requires federal contractors to register and annually renew their registration on a GSA website,  The complaint alleges that is incompatible with screen reading software that many blind individuals, including the individual plaintiffs in this case, rely on to navigate the Internet.  As a result, the plaintiffs allege that GSA discriminates against blind federal contractors who cannot register or renew their registration on, which they are required to do under federal law.  The lawsuit seeks to force GSA to make its website accessible to blind federal contractors. 
Sutherland became involved in the case through the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, which helped two of the individual plaintiffs file administrative complaints with GSA.
“The great irony here is that the agency charged with ensuring that others comply with the Rehabilitation Act and make their websites accessible to the blind is not itself complying with the law.  GSA is effectively telling federal contractors to ‘do as I say, not as I do,’” said Sutherland Partner Lewis S. Wiener, who leads the team representing the plaintiffs. “We are honored to work with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and the ACB in such a worthy cause and are working vigorously to ensure that is accessible to blind and visually impaired federal contractors.”
In addition to Mr. Wiener, the plaintiffs are represented by Sutherland associates Amanda R. Callais and Charles M. Kruly.
“In 2014 there is absolutely no reason why a website, not to mention a government website, should not be accessible to everyone,” said Kim Charlson, President of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). “The inaccessibility of points out a clear lack of commitment by leadership at GSA to make accessibility a core component of the design and development process.”
Matthew Handley, the Director of Litigation at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, commented, “the law requires that GSA provide equal access to to all persons seeking to be federal contractors. Compliance with the law means, at a minimum, maintaining a registration system accessible to individuals with disabilities, many of whose livelihoods depend on their ability to maintain their status as federal contractors.  Unfortunately, GSA has not met this minimal requirement, compelling the lawsuit filed today.”  
Sutherland is an international legal service provider composed of associated legal practices that are separate entities, doing business in the U.S. as Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP and as Arbis Sutherland LLP in London and Geneva. More than 435 lawyers help the world’s largest companies, industry leaders, sector innovators and business entrepreneurs solve their biggest challenges and reach their business goals. Seven major practice areas—corporate, energy and environmental, financial services, intellectual property, litigation, real estate and tax—provide the framework for an extensive range of focus areas.
The American Council of the Blind is the largest consumer-based organization of blind and visually impaired Americans advocating for the rights of blind Americans. Comprised of more than 70 affiliates across the United States, the organization is dedicated to making it possible for blind and visually impaired Americans to participate fully in all aspects of American society. For more information, visit; write to American Council of the Blind, 2200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 650, Arlington, VA 22201; phone (202) 467-5081; or fax (703) 465-5085.
The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs for over 45 years has represented both individuals and groups seeking to vindicate their civil rights.  It has handled over 5,000 civil rights cases, in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of urban life. It represents people with claims of discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religion, and sexual orientation.  Leveraging its own broad expertise in discrimination litigation with the resources of Washington, D.C.'s private bar, the Committee's litigation efforts have become nationally known for landmark court victories, record judgments, and precedent-setting consent decrees.  Its capacity to mobilize the private bar has made it possible for the Committee to provide its clients with more than 50,000 hours of quality legal representation every year.
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Below are 3 links: the full Civil Action Complaint as html web page and in both .pdf and MS Word .docx files you can open and download.
HTML format Civil Action No. 14-671