University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name National Association of the Deaf v. Harvard University DR-MA-0006
Docket / Court 3:15-cv-30023 ( D. Mass. )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Attorney Organization Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center
Case Summary
On February 12, 2015, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), on behalf of its members (including four named in the complaint) and a proposed class filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs sued under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ... read more >
On February 12, 2015, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), on behalf of its members (including four named in the complaint) and a proposed class filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs sued under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act against Harvard University. The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys from the Disability Law Center, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, the National Association of the Deaf Law and Advocacy Center, and private council. The plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction that would require Harvard to provide accurate captioning on its online content. The parties claimed that Harvard had willfully violated the Rehabilitation Act and Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing captioned video and audio content on its platforms and therefore excluding deaf and hard of hearing individuals from benefiting from said content.

The plaintiffs alleged that based on information and belief, Harvard did not have administrative procedures or policies in place to ensure that its online content had accurate captioning, whether or not that content had been created or produced by Harvard itself. This issue extended back to 2010, when the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education issued a joint letter to university colleges and presidents to make clear that the requirements of § 504 and ADA include technological devise when used by places of public accommodation. The following year, the Department of Education released an FAQ explaining that letter, indicating that its contents were predicated on legal precedents and that the letter would apply to all forms of emerging technology, including online content. Despite this and repeated requests from the NAD, Harvard had not accurately captioned much of its online content.

This case is very much still in progress. After the initial filing of the complaint on February 12, 2015, Harvard filed a motion to dismiss on May 11, 2015, citing issues of jurisdiction and a failure to state a cause of action. There have been a number of responses on Harvard's motion, including the filing of an Amicus Brief by a representative from the U.S. Department of Justice. While not directly involved in the case, the DOJ is an interested party and appears to agree with the plaintiffs on this issue. On September 10, 2015, there was a hearing on the motion to dismiss held before the Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson. As of yet the transcript for that hearing is unavailable.

Carolyn Weltman - 10/11/2015


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Defendant-type
College/University
Disability
Hearing impairment
Discrimination-basis
Disability (inc. reasonable accommodations)
General
Communication skills
School/University policies
TTY/Close Captioning/etc.
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Defendant(s) Harvard University
Plaintiff Description A non-profit, civil rights organization for deaf and hard of hearing people and four individuals who are limited in their ability to hear.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center
Class action status sought Unknown
Class action status granted Pending
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Form of Settlement None on record
Order Duration not on record
Case Closing Year n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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Links Harvard and M.I.T. Are Sued Over Lack of Closed Captions
New York Times
Posted: Feb. 12, 2015
By: Tamar Lewin
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
3:15-cv-30023-MGM (D. Mass.) 09/29/2015
DR-MA-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief 02/12/2015
DR-MA-0006-0001.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amicus Brief 06/25/2015
DR-MA-0006-0002.pdf | Detail
Document Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Mastroianni, Mark Gerald (D. Mass.)
DR-MA-0006-9000
Monitors/Masters None on record
Plaintiff's Lawyers Charmatz, Marc P. (Maryland)
DR-MA-0006-0001 | DR-MA-0006-9000
Eichner, Stanley J. (Missouri)
DR-MA-0006-0001
Fox, Timothy Patrick (Colorado)
DR-MA-0006-0001 | DR-MA-0006-9000
Glassman, Richard M. (Massachusetts)
DR-MA-0006-0001
Griffin, Christine M. (Massachusetts)
DR-MA-0006-0001
Jackson, Caroline E. (Maryland)
DR-MA-0006-0001 | DR-MA-0006-9000
Lee, Bill Lann (California)
DR-MA-0006-0001 | DR-MA-0006-9000
Morris, Sarah (Colorado)
DR-MA-0006-0001 | DR-MA-0006-9000
Murphy, Thomas P. (Massachusetts)
DR-MA-0006-0001 | DR-MA-0006-9000
Wilensky, Julie H. (California)
DR-MA-0006-0001 | DR-MA-0006-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Johnson, Jeffrey R. (District of Columbia)
DR-MA-0006-9000
Morrison, Christopher M. (Massachusetts)
DR-MA-0006-9000
Naeve, Robert A (California)
DR-MA-0006-9000
Other Lawyers Lanvers, Charlotte L. (District of Columbia)
DR-MA-0006-0002 | DR-MA-0006-9000

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