Blind Employee Sues Los Angeles County for Discrimination
National Federation of the Blind Supports Sharon Watson in Fight for Her Legal Rights
Los Angeles (May 16, 2019): For Sharon Watson, a blind licensed clinical social worker with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health since 2004, it was bad enough that the county deployed software—the Integrated Behavioral Health Information System (“IBHIS”)—that wouldn’t work with her text-to-speech screen reader in 2014. The department has made matters even worse by refusing to provide Dr. Watson with a dedicated, qualified reader to help her complete the administrative tasks that she can no longer accomplish independently. And to add insult to injury, Ms. Watson has faced discriminatory accusations related to her job performance, even though her alleged low productivity has been caused by the county’s failures to accommodate her disability.
After trying to resolve the situation with the county for the past five years, Ms. Watson filed suit this week in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Her lawsuit alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Ms. Watson seeks a court order requiring the county to provide her with a qualified reader with the sole or prioritized task of assisting her, declaring that the county has violated state and federal law by deploying the inaccessible IBHIS system, and awarding her compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys’ fees. She is being represented by Anna R. Levine and Timothy R. Elder of the TRE Legal Practice, with the support of the National Federation of the Blind.
“The National Federation of the Blind is dedicated to promoting accessible technology in the workplace and beyond, and to fighting for the legal rights of blind employees,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We will not tolerate a situation in which Los Angeles County deploys inaccessible technology, refuses to accommodate a blind employee affected by that unlawful decision, and then threatens her career and livelihood by blaming her for problems of its own making.”