Canon Law – Berokim – ADA Website Claims
The Karlin Law Firm LLP defends these claims and also works with businesses, website owners, web developers and webmasters to bring websites into compliance in a way that will avoid ADA violation claims. Web developers will often focus on WCAG 2.0 or WCAG 2.1, but much more needs to be addressed, and knowledge and experience in the current state of the law are critical to protect businesses, which needs to be explained to the web developer working on a website. The Karlin Law Firm LLP has resolved and consulted on 4,000 ADA cases, half of which are now website claims and cases. We both defend and provide the needed guidance in website compliance.
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Beverly Hills attorney Kousha Berokim has been indicted for an alleged scheme demanding monetary settlements from San Francisco businesses and nonprofits to avoid Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuits. Of note is that the Karlin Law Firm has handled over 100 claims made by Kousha Berokim under is own name as the attorney or using the name Canon Law. The Karlin Law firm was successful in all 100 separate cases and our clients never paid Kousha Berokim, Canon Law or his client any money.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin said among the grand jury charges Berokim faces were one for grand theft from an elder and 14 counts of grand theft by false pretense.
The charges culminated from a nine-month investigation.
Berokim allegedly sent 17 San Francisco businesses and nonprofit organizations emails and letters in which he purported to represent a blind Californian, threatening those businesses with federal ADA lawsuits for alleged website-accessibility violations if they did not enter into settlements and pay him sums of money to resolve the claims. It is alleged that these emails and letters were false because, as reflected in the federal courts’ public records, Berokim has never filed any such ADA cases and had no intent to file them.
For at least one business, Berokim’s client never visited the website in question. Fourteen of his alleged victims paid Berokim amounts of $950 or more, while the remaining three victims refused to pay him and were not sued.
Here’s an example of a typical letter sent by Canon Law:
270 NORTH CANON DRIVE, THIRD FLOOR, BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA 90210 PHONE 310.846.8553 | FAX 310.300.1233 | CANONLAW.ONLINE CANON LAW
Attorney’s at Law Kousha Berokim, Esq. Website 12345 Main Street, Your City, State
Attn: Legal Department
Re: Inaccessibility for Blind Individuals on Website in Violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act To Whom It May Concern:
By way of introduction, this office has been retained to represent a blind Californian, to prosecute a lawsuit against you for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Our client attempted to access your website at www.yourwebsite.com but could not do so because the site is not accessible to visually impaired individuals. We have since confirmed our client’s complaints using the [Website Accessibility Evaluation (“WAVE”) protocol]. We have spoken with website accessibility experts and the Department of Justice, and researched the accessibility barriers brought to our attention. This investigation has established that our client, and those similarly situated to our client, are not receiving equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations offered by www.yourwebsite.com.
This letter sets forth the reasons why we have reached that conclusion and proposes a plan to work constructively with you, on behalf of our clients, and others similarly situated, to achieve equal access for all blind individuals who visit www.yourwebsite.com website using a collaborative approach that has been successfully utilized by public accommodations and the disabled community. Your website’s inaccessibility subjects you to liability under both state and federal law. See e.g. 42 U.S.C. § 12181; 28 C.F.R. § 36.201(a); and Nat’! Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp., 452 F. Supp. 2d 946.
This letter is divided into four sections: Section I describes the access issues that we have discovered on www.yourwebsite.com website and our claimant’s experiences; Section II describes our extensive experience representing claimants and defendants in matters involving civil rights of persons with disabilities; Section III describes the legal basis of the potential claims arising from the inaccessibility of www.yourwebsite.com website and services; and Section IV sets forth our proposal for Structured Negotiations in lieu of litigation to resolve these issues. I. www.yourwebsite.com Access Issues and Our Claimants’ Experiences Our investigation has revealed: • Key pages on www.yourwebsite.com website-including, but not limited to, the www.yourwebsite.com Home Page, Product Page, Cart Page, and Checkout Page do not comply with the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) 2.0 level AA.1 •
Some visually impaired individuals use screen reader software to produce an auditory version of what a sighted individual sees in their browser. Accordingly, alternative text content must be provided for all non-textual content, including images. Despite this requirement, there are numerous images on the site which do not have a corresponding text description, including the “Knife” image on the Product Page. This renders it impossible for a visually impaired user relying on screen reader software to understand the image or utilize an image-based link. • Information displayed on a web page must be understandable. Specifically, web pages must provide a mechanism for identifying an abbreviation’s expanded form or meaning because the visually impaired are unable to rely on image context to assist in their understanding of the abbreviation. Despite this requirement, our investigation identified 72 occurrences on www.yourwebsite.com website where the expanded form or definition of an abbreviation was unavailable. • Sighted users know what data to enter into form fields based on the association of the text label with the form field. For users who rely on assistive technology such as screen readers, the text label needs to be pro grammatically associated with the form field so that the users can effectively interact with the forms. However, on the Product Page, the option field has no label, and the label wrapping the name field has no explicit connection to it. Accordingly, screen reader users will not know the purpose of the nickname field or how to use it. II. Counsel Counsel in this matter are experienced litigators and disability rights lawyers. Canon Law is a litigation law firm, whose practice areas include disability rights and ADA public accommodations work. The firm’s attorneys have extensive experience serving as counsel in significant national class action lawsuits and in alternative dispute resolution with and against entities in the technology, retail, healthcare, financial services, and hospitality industries involving claims arising under Titles II and III of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”), and comparable state accessibility laws. We represent corporate clients, classes of individuals, and advocacy associations in matters relating to access law compliance. III. Legal Basis of the Claims The U.S. Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) has emphasized the need for accessible electronic and information technology -including websites-for blind individuals. The DOJ issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding revising the regulations implementing Title III of the ADA in order to establish requirements for making the goods, services, facilities, privileges, accommodations, or advantages offered by public accommodations via the Internet accessible to individuals with disabilities.3 Recently, on June 5, 2014, the DOJ announced that it had reached a settlement under the ADA with Florida State University (“FSU”). Under the settlement, FSU agreed to make its website and mobile applications conform to, at a minimum, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA Success Criteria and other Conformance Requirements (“WCAG 2.0 AA”). Title III of the ADA imposes a general obligation upon www.yourwebsite.com insofar as it provides that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disabilities in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation. . . .” “[T]he statute’s broad and expansive nondiscrimination mandate reaches goods and services provided by covered entities on websites over the Internet.”6 Congress unambiguously declared that it is discrimination both to deny the equal opportunity to participate in a service and to provide services in a way that does not provide an equal benefit. Coupled with this general obligation, Title III imposes specific obligations upon www.yourwebsite.com to ensure effective communication with its patrons. Specifically, www.yourwebsite.com is required to provide “appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.”8 The regulations implementing the ADA set forth numerous examples of appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including Braille materials and displays, screen reader software accessible electronic and information technology, and other means of making 9 visually delivered materials available to individuals who are blind or have low vision. IV. Proposal for Structured Negotiations A number of actions with substantially similar claims as we raise here have been resolved by costly and lengthy class action litigation (and in certain instances, with DOJ intervention).10 Indeed, the DOJ moved to intervene in National Federation of the Blind, et al . v. HRB Digital LLC, et al., a private lawsuit alleging disability discrimination by HRB Digital LLC and HRB Tax Group Inc., subsidiaries of H&R Block Inc. In the memorandum and proffered complaint filed by the United States in support of its motion to intervene, the United States alleged that the H&R Block companies discriminate against individuals with disabilities and that their website, www.hrblock.com, violates Title III of the ADA, notwithstanding well-established and readily available guidelines for delivering web content in an accessible manner. Ultimately, the parties entered into a consent decree to resolve the DOJ’s allegations.11 Under the terms of the decree, H&R Block’s website, tax filing utility, and mobile applications must conform to the Level AA Success Criteria of the WCAG 2.0. According to the decree, the H&R Block website will be accessible for the start of the next tax filing term on January 1, 2015, with additional accessibility deadlines over the following years of the decree. Additionally, HRB Digital and HRB Tax Group agreed to appoint a skilled web accessibility coordinator who will report to H&R Block’s enterprise Chief Information Officer; adopt a web accessibility policy; initiate training on accessible design for its web content personnel; evaluate employee and contractor performance based on successful web access programming; conduct regular automated and user group testing; and hire an approved outside consultant to prepare annual independent evaluations of H&R Block’s online accessibility. H&R Block also paid $45,000 to the two individual plaintiffs, and a $55,000 civil penalty. Structured Negotiations is an alternative dispute resolution method that allows parties and their counsel to work together constructively and collaboratively to resolve legal claims without either party having to spend time and resources in litigation. Structured Negotiations has been used successfully to address the rights of persons with disabilities and to improve access and eliminate barriers at public accommodations such as www.yourwebsite.com. For instance, it was used: • Between the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio (“USAO”) and the Cavaliers Operating Company, LLC (“Cavaliers”) which operates the Quicken Loans Arena.12 Under the settlement agreement, Cavaliers agreed to bring its websites into compliance with the Worldwide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.0, Level AA success criteria. The Cavaliers further agreed to develop a formal policy to evaluate and remedy any accessibility problems encountered on the websites. • Between CVS and the American Council of the Blind, the American Foundation for the Blind, and the California Council of the Blind where CVS agreed to upgrade its website to comply with the WCAG promulgated by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium and to install tactile POS devices in every CVS store in the United States.13 CVS further agreed to retain an outside consultant approved by the claimants to audit CVS.com for substantial compliance with the WCAG Guidelines, and to provide a written report regarding its findings. We have recently completed and are presently utilizing Structured Negotiations with other public and private entities to address access barriers and violations on behalf of disabled individuals and organizations throughout the United States. The Structured Negotiations process avoids the often negative publicity that comes from litigation, as well as much of the cost involved with litigation. In fact, when agreements resulting from Structured Negotiations are presented publicly, they are usually done via joint press releases emphasizing the collaborative approach and the mutually beneficial solutions achieved, resulting in positive publicity for the entities involved. Thus, it is our belief that the purposes of the ADA and other anti-discrimination laws, and the interests of our client and www.yourwebsite.com will best be served if we can engage in good faith, fruitful negotiations over the issues raised in this letter. In order to do so, we must execute a Structured Negotiations agreement that (1) ensures that our clients’ claims will not be barred by the statute of limitations; (2) provides a structure for negotiations; and (3) ensures that we are not penalized by pursuing a nonlitigated resolution of the issues we have raised and are able to obtain compensation for our clients and recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs as provided for under applicable law. The end goal of a successful Structured Negotiation is a written, enforceable settlement agreement covering the necessary injunctive relief, compensation to our clients, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. The injunctive relief sought will include, but is not limited to, implementing and maintaining an accessible website for the visually impaired within a reasonable time period; adopting a web accessibility policy; initiating training on accessible design for web content personnel; conducting regular automated and user group testing; and related policy and training issues. It is anticipated that the process will include a survey review covering www.yourwebsite.com website and policies and procedures affecting persons with disabilities. The parties will then work with shared information toward the goal of satisfying the concerns of all parties. As the attached report shows, your website has at least eight (8) different serious and substantial violations. Each one of these violations has resulted in serious, practical, and actionable inaccessibility. Be advised that the said violations of our client’s rights, entitle our client to statutory monetary damages, attorneys’ fees, expert costs, and an injunction. The statutory damages alone exceed a minimum of Four Thousand Dollars ($4,000), per violation, meaning the minimum statutory damages in this case are at least Thirty Two Thousand Dollars ($32,000). We intend to file suit in the next two weeks. If you are willing to work with us in the manner proposed in this letter and to enter into a Structured Negotiations agreement, we ask that you respond to us no later than time and Date. If you timely respond that you are willing to enter into a Structured Negotiations agreement to address the issues raised by our clients, we will then discuss and agree upon the terms of the Structured Negotiations agreement and develop a mutually agreeable path going forward. This letter is a confidential settlement communication and cannot be used in any action before a court. The statements of either party in these settlement negotiations cannot be considered admissions nor are they binding upon the parties if no settlement is reached. We hope that you will share our view about the value of a collaborative approach so that together, we can expeditiously resolve these accessibility issues. We look forward to your response. Govern Yourself Accordingly; CANON LAW Kousha Berokim, Esq.