National Federation of the Blind Applauds Jury Verdict for Montgomery County Woman
Greenbelt, Maryland (February 29,2016): The National Federation of the Blind, the nation's leading advocate for equal access to employment and technology for the blind, today applauded a jury verdict reached in the matter of Yasmin Reyazuddin vs. Montgomery County (Civil Action No. 8:11-cv-00951-DKC) in federal district court Friday afternoon. The jury found that the county failed to provide Ms. Reyazuddin, who is blind, with a reasonable accommodation, as required by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, by refusing to implement accessible software so that she could continue to work as an information specialist in the county's 311 call center. Ms. Reyazuddin worked in the call center of the County’s Department of Health and Human Services until the County consolidated that call center and others into its 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 and provided information to the County about accessible solutions. The county ultimately procured call center software that was not accessibly configured. Thereafter, the County refused to implement the necessary changes. As a result, instead of being transferred to the new 311 call center, Ms. Reyazuddin was transferred to make-work positions which, at best, involved duties that only filled roughly half of her eight-hour work day. Ms. Reyazuddin filed suit with the assistance of the National Federation of the Blind in April of 2011. In addition to its finding that Montgomery County failed to reasonably accommodate Ms. Reyazuddin, the jury found that the failure to transfer her to the customer service center was an adverse employment action. The jury rejected the county's defense that it would have been an undue hardship to make the customer service center accessible to Ms. Reyazuddin. Ms. Reyazuddin will now proceed before the Court to seek injunctive relief ordering the County to make the software accessible.
Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: "Blindness does not define an individual or his or her capacity to contribute in the workplace, and this was demonstrated by Yasmin Reyazuddin's ten years of service to Montgomery County prior to this debacle. The only thing that prevented her from continuing to be an effective employee was the county's failure to provide the reasonable accommodation of accessible technology, as the jury found after careful deliberation. This case underscores the critical importance of accessible technology for the success of blind workers in the modern workplace. Generally, as in this case, procuring and deploying such technology does not place an undue burden on employers. I encourage all employers to take steps to ensure that their workplace technologies are accessible at the time they are first implemented so that the technology does not erect an artificial barrier to people who are blind.”
Ms. Reyazuddin said: "I am grateful to the men and women of the jury for their time and their careful consideration of my case. My only desire throughout this litigation has been to work at my full capacity and serve the good people of Montgomery County by providing them with the information they need. Thanks to this verdict, I believe that I will soon be able to achieve this goal."
Ms. Reyazuddin is represented by Joseph B. Espo and Daniel F. Goldstein of the Baltimore firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy LLP, and by Timothy R. Elder of the TRE Legal Practice of Fremont, California.