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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
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
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 Harvard University under Section 504 of the ... 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 Harvard University under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 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 along with declaratory relief and attorneys' fees. 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.

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 were 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, who agreed 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. On February 9, 2016, Judge Robertson recommended that the court deny the defendant’s motion to stay or dismiss in its entirety. 2016 WL 3561622. Judge Mark G. Mastroianni adopted judge Robertson’s suggestion, officially denying the motion on November 3, 2016. The parties then elected to try to settle the dispute using a private mediator. The parties met with the mediator several times, but on February 22, 2018 both parties declared that they were unable to come to an agreement. Judge Robertson set a trial date for 2019.

On June 29, 2019, Harvard filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. The parties agreed that Magistrate Judge Robertson could conduct this proceeding, and all subsequent proceedings. She granted in part and denied in part Harvard's motion. 377 F.Supp.3d 49. After receiving this order, the parties agreed to re-enter settlement negotiations. The parties mediated the case and reached a proposed settlement that they submitted to the court for approval. The proposed settlement included a consent decree whereby Harvard would caption all of its online content, create a cure process for uncaptioned or inaccurately captioned content, report on its compliance with the consent decree every six months, and give the court 42 months of jurisdiction to ensure compliance and enforcement of the settlement. In addition, Harvard pledged not to oppose the plaintiffs' motion for $1,575,000 in attorneys' fees.

On December 9, 2019, Magistrate Judge Robertson granted the motion, thereby certifying the settlement class and preliminarily approving the consent decree. A fairness hearing on the content of the proposed settlement is scheduled for February 25, 2020.

Carolyn Weltman - 10/11/2015
Rachel Carpman - 11/19/2018
Hope Brinn - 01/24/2020


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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
Effective Communication (ADA)
Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable Modifications
School/University policies
Screen readers and similar accessibility devices
TTY/Close Captioning/Videophone/etc.
Website
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
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
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 02/12/2015
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing DR-MA-0007 : National Association of the Deaf v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (D. Mass.)
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  National Association of the Deaf Announces Landmark Settlement with Harvard to Improve Online Accessibility
Date: Nov. 27, 2019
(Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Harvard and M.I.T. Are Sued Over Lack of Closed Captions
New York Times
Date: Feb. 12, 2015
By: Tamar Lewin
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
3:15-cv-30023-MGM (D. Mass.)
DR-MA-0006-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/31/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF# 1]
DR-MA-0006-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/12/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amicus Brief [ECF# 33]
DR-MA-0006-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/25/2015
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Report and Recommendation Regarding Defendants' Motion to Stay or Dismiss [ECF# 50] (2016 WL 3561622)
DR-MA-0006-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 02/09/2016
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order Regarding Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [ECF# 173] (377 F.Supp.3d 49) (D. Mass.)
DR-MA-0006-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/28/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum and Order Regarding Plaintiffs' Assented-to Motion to Certify the Class for Settlement Purposes and for Preliminary Approval of Class Action Settlement [ECF# 202] (D. Mass.)
DR-MA-0006-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 12/09/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Robertson, Katherine A Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
DR-MA-0006-0003 | DR-MA-0006-0004 | DR-MA-0006-0005 | DR-MA-0006-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Charmatz, Marc P. (Maryland) show/hide docs
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Cochran, Shaylyn Capri (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Eichner, Stanley J. (Missouri) show/hide docs
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Fox, Timothy Patrick (Colorado) show/hide docs
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Glassman, Richard M. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Griffin, Christine M. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Gupta, Namita (California) show/hide docs
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Jackson, Caroline E. (Maryland) show/hide docs
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Lee, Bill Lann (California) show/hide docs
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Mayerson, Arlene Brynne (California) show/hide docs
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Morris, Sarah (Colorado) show/hide docs
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Murphy, Thomas P. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Myers, Carly A. (California) show/hide docs
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Pritchard, Tatum A. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Robertson, Amy Farr (Colorado) show/hide docs
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Rosenblum, Howard A (Maryland) show/hide docs
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Sellers, Joseph Marc (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Wilensky, Julie H. (California) show/hide docs
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Defendant's Lawyers Braceras, Roberto M. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Grumer, Janet (California) show/hide docs
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Hoeplinger, Stephen M. (Missouri) show/hide docs
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Jay, William M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Johnson, Jeffrey R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Kim, Andrew (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Kistner, Timothy (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Luz, Jennifer B. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Morrison, Christopher M. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Naeve, Robert A (California) show/hide docs
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Other Lawyers Lanvers, Charlotte L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
DR-MA-0006-0002 | DR-MA-0006-9000

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