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Is Your Website Accessible to Disabled Online Job Seeker?

On March 22, 2019, a federal judge permitted an Ohio man’s class action lawsuit to proceed against Ford Motor Company.  The lawsuit alleges the company discriminated against disabled job applicants because its online job application wasn’t fully accessible.  In the past, experts have advised on the importance of having a well-designed website for marketing purposes, but this case may make the “well designed” nature of a website important not just for aesthetic purposes, but also from an accessibility standpoint.

The case (Kasper v. Ford Motor Company (N.D. Ohio Mar. 22, 2019)) alleges that Kasper has a cognitive disability that makes it difficult for him to navigate websites and complete “information-intensive tasks online” such as job applications.  Ford only accepts job applications through its online application portal unless a request for an accommodation is requested and granted.  Plaintiff alleges he has been unable to apply for a position because of Ford’s failure to respond to accommodation requests and his failure to complete the online application.  Ford includes a hotline phone number that applicants can call to request an accommodation and the applicant receives a recording that their phone call will be returned.  Plaintiff alleges the number to call is hard to locate and he needed assistance in finding it. “Plaintiff also claims that Ford never returns his calls because Ford requires hotline callers to include information in the voicemail that Plaintiff’s disability prevented him from obtaining.”

Ford Motor moved to dismiss the class allegations as well as three of six claims for relief.  The Court refused to grant the motion to strike the class allegations and the case will be moving forward under the following theories of liability: (1) State law disability discrimination alleging a disparate impact class claim; (2) State law disability discrimination for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation; and (3) Violation of the ADA for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation resulting in failure to hire.  The plaintiff had filed a Title III reasonable accommodation claim as well, but did not oppose Defendant’s motion to dismiss as to that claim.

Plaintiff’s claim raises some interesting issues that Verrill Dana’s Labor and Employment team will be following closely.  In the meantime, now is a good time to do a quick audit of your current hiring practices to make sure that they are fully accessible to individuals with disabilities.  For more information on best practices related to hiring, check out our Verrill Voices HR Law 101 Series on Hiring or contact a member of Verrill Dana’s Labor and Employment Practice Group.

Topics: Accommodation, HR Best Practices