Montgomery County Discriminates Against Blind Employee
Rockville, Maryland (April 13, 2011): With the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind, a blind woman who was until recently employed as an information specialist with Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services has filed suit against the County for unlawful discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The suit arises from the County’s purchase of an inaccessible database program that employees of its new 311 call center must use to complete their tasks. Yasmin Reyazuddin worked in the call center of the County’s Department of Health and Human Services: Division of Aging and Disability Services until the County consolidated that call center and others into its new Montgomery County 311 Call Center. Ms. Reyazuddin had been using screen access software, which converts information on a computer screen into synthesized speech or into Braille that can be displayed on a device known as a refreshable Braille display, to access the computer programs with which she needed to interact in order to provide accurate information to callers, keep records of calls, and perform other tasks necessary for resolving the concerns of callers. When she learned that her agency’s call center would be consolidated into the County’s new 311 call center, she repeatedly inquired of County officials whether the software for the new call center would be accessible with screen access technology and provided information to the County about accessible solutions. For the new call center, the County ultimately procured a database system from Oracle known as Seibel Customer Relationship Management (CRM). According to its manufacturer, this software can be configured to work with screen access software, but the County installed a custom configuration of the software that is not accessible to blind employees. Ms. Reyazuddin was originally scheduled to be transferred to the new call center with other information specialists, but was not allowed to be transferred when she raised concerns about the accessibility of the CRM program. Ms. Reyazuddin has not been allowed to test the software for accessibility, and although Oracle provided the County with documentation describing how the software could be made accessible, the County has not implemented an accessible configuration of the software. Ms. Reyazuddin has been downgraded from an information specialist to a support staff position at the County Department of Health and Human Services, and she is only given duties that fill approximately half of an eight-hour work day. She has been informed that her pay will also be cut because the County claims that her multilingual skills are no longer being used in her new assignment.
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “Yasmin Reyazuddin has been treated shamefully and with deliberate disregard for her legal and civil rights by Montgomery County. Instead of taking the steps necessary to make the database program used by employees of the Montgomery County 311 Call Center accessible, the County has reassigned her to a lower-paying job in which her skills are not being used. We cannot and will not tolerate this discrimination against her and other blind County employees.”
Ms. Reyazuddin said: “Despite my ten years of service to Montgomery County, I am now being shifted to a lower-paying position with little to do. I could do all of my former job duties if the County would follow Oracle’s guidelines for making CRM accessible, but instead I am largely relegated to idleness. The situation has caused me considerable emotional distress. I did not want to resort to litigation but I feel that I have no choice if I am to once again be a productive employee of Montgomery County.”
The plaintiff is represented with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind by Joseph B. Espo and Timothy R. Elder of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy.