A proposed class action claims three companies who offer online continuing legal education (CLE) courses have discriminated against deaf and hard-of-hearing attorneys by failing to offer captioning for online audio.
According to the 10-page case out of Washington federal court, defendants Lawline, ALM Media Holdings (which offers courses under the CLE Center name), and TRT CLE have prevented hearing-impaired individuals from being able to fully understand and benefit from their CLE courses by failing to offer accommodations as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“None of the Defendants offer captioning, and they therefore deny [the plaintiff] and all members of the putative class the benefit of their course offerings,” the complaint charges.
The state of Washington, the lawsuit explains, requires attorneys to complete and report 45 hours of CLE every three years, and allows all 45 hours to be completed through online courses. The defendants, for their part, offer both individual courses and course packages that have been approved for CLE credit by the Washington State Bar, the suit says.
The plaintiff, a Washington attorney who has cochlear implants in both ears, estimates that he is able to understand between 50 and 60 percent of the material transmitted through online feeds such as the defendants’ courses, but reports that the concentration needed to do so is “exhausting.” Per the case, the plaintiff in January 2021 emailed Lawline’s and CLE Center’s customer support desks to find out if certain course offerings were or could be captioned. Lawline, the suit says, indicated that while some new courses may be captioned, the archived material—which makes up “the vast majority of Lawline’s offerings,” the plaintiff stresses—was not. The CLE Center, according to the suit, never responded to the plaintiff’s request.
The suit goes on to state that the plaintiff’s counsel in April 2021 sent letters via email to each of the defendants on behalf of the plaintiff and seven other deaf or hard-of-hearing attorneys, asking whether captioning was available or could be provided for their course offerings. Per the case, the defendants have failed to provide the accommodation.
“While several recipients of the letter responded positively, stating either that captioning was in fact available or would be provided in the future, Defendants did not respond, and have not done so,” the complaint alleges.
The plaintiff says that while he checked the defendants’ websites and found courses in which he was interested, he “found no indication” that the courses were captioned, and would therefore be forced to purchase the materials before knowing whether he could benefit from them.
The lawsuit argues that the plaintiff and other deaf or hard-of-hearing attorneys are entitled to the same benefits of the defendants’ CLE options as attorneys without hearing impairments. If the companies provided captioning and disclosed the availability of such, attorneys with hearing impairments could consider those courses as a means to satisfy their CLE requirements, the suit says.
The case stresses that providing captioning for online audio content is “feasible” and that the defendants, by failing to offer captioning or another effective method to make audio available to attorneys with hearing impairments, have violated the ADA.
The lawsuit, which seeks an injunction requiring the defendants to provide captioning or other auxiliary aids and indicate on its website that such services are available, looks to represent all attorneys subject to mandatory CLE requirements who, because of hearing loss, need captioning or other auxiliary aids and services to understand and benefit from the defendants’ courses.
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