The Committee and Sutherland Reach Landmark Settlement with GSA on Behalf of Blind Federal Contractors and the American Council of the Blind

WASHINGTON, DC – The Washington Lawyers' Committee announces, in conjunction with the law firm of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, that they have reached a settlement with the General Services Administration (GSA) on behalf of three blind federal contractors and the American Council of the Blind (ACB). The settlement will benefit all blind federal contractors.

Resolving an 18-month effort to make the GSA-operated website SAM.gov accessible to blind federal contractors, the settlement requires GSA to make significant changes to SAM.gov that had prevented blind federal contractors from accessing the website and maintaining their status as federal contractors. The accessibility issues were identified by the plaintiffs and confirmed by a web accessibility expert. Following GSA’s implementation of the agreed-to changes, the website will undergo review by another independent accessibility expert. In addition, the agreement creates a process by which members of the blind community will test and provide feedback on future changes to SAM.gov.

According to Sutherland partner and co-chair of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, Lewis S. Wiener, “This is an excellent result not only for our clients, but for the blind community as a whole. The Internet is part of our daily lives, and being unable to access any website—much less a website that is essential to doing business with the federal government—puts members of the blind community at an economic disadvantage. It is unfortunate that it took the filing of a lawsuit to bring about meaningful change but we thank GSA for working collaboratively with us and our clients to make SAM.gov accessible.”  

“We are very pleased with this settlement,” said Matthew Handley, Director of Litigation for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “It ensures that blind contractors have equal access to a website that is essential to their livelihoods, and that the website will remain accessible in the future. Everyone, including the blind community, deserves access to the Internet, which has become a means for independence, information and commerce.”

Kim Charlson, President of the ACB, stated, “On behalf of the American Council of the Blind (ACB), I want to acknowledge the excellent support received from Sutherland and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee in arriving at this landmark settlement. I am very pleased that GSA is being held accountable for making SAM.gov accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. As a result of this settlement, it is my expectation that our community will not encounter access barriers with other GSA sites in the future.”

In April 2014, Sutherland and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee filed a putative class action in federal district court in the District of Columbia against GSA, the federal agency responsible for administering the federal government’s non-defense contracts, alleging that GSA failed to provide a website accessible to blind federal contractors, who, like almost all federal contractors, must register and annually renew their federal contractor registration on SAM.gov.

The complaint, filed on behalf of three federal contractors and the ACB, alleged that SAM.gov was incompatible with most screen reading software that many blind individuals, including the plaintiffs in this case, rely on to navigate the Internet. As a result, the plaintiffs alleged that GSA discriminated against blind federal contractors, who could not register or renew their registration on SAM.gov, which they are required to do under federal law.

Sutherland became involved in the case through the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, which helped two of the individual plaintiffs file administrative complaints against GSA to no avail.

In addition to Mr. Wiener, the plaintiffs were represented by Sutherland associate Charles M. Kruly and former Sutherland associate Amanda R. Callais.

Sutherland has a long and distinguished history of commitment to pro bono work, tracing back nearly 100 years to the firm's founders.

Media Highlights:

Federal Times (November 12, 2015)


Contact: 

Eric Bridges, American Council of the Blind
202.467.5081 |
ebridges@acb.org

Matthew Handley, Washington Lawyers’ Committee
202.319.1000 | 
matthew_handley@washlaw.org

Erin Corbin Meszaros, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP
404.407.5030 erin.meszaros@sutherland.com   

ABOUT THE AMERICAN COUNCIL OF THE BLIND: The American Council of the Blind is the largest consumer-based organization of blind and visually impaired Americans advocating for the rights of blind Americans. Comprised of more than 70 affiliates across the United States, the organization is dedicated to making it possible for blind and visually impaired Americans to participate fully in all aspects of American society. For more information, visit www.acb.org.

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs for over 45 years has represented both individuals and groups seeking to vindicate their civil rights. It has handled over 5,000 civil rights cases, in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of urban life. It represents people with claims of discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religion, and sexual orientation. Leveraging its own broad expertise in discrimination litigation with the resources of Washington, D.C.’s private bar, the Committee’s litigation efforts have become nationally known for landmark court victories, record judgments and precedent-setting consent decrees. Its capacity to mobilize the private bar has made it possible for the Committee to provide its clients with more than 50,000 hours of quality legal representation every year.

ABOUT SUTHERLAND ASBILL & BRENNAN LLP: Sutherland is an international legal service provider helping the world’s largest companies, industry leaders, sector innovators and business entrepreneurs solve their biggest challenges and reach their business goals. More than 435 lawyers across seven major practice areas—corporate, energy and environmental, financial services, intellectual property, litigation, real estate and tax—provide the framework for an extensive range of focus areas. Sutherland is composed of associated legal practices that are separate entities, doing business in the United States as Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, and as Arbis Sutherland LLP in London and Geneva. Arbis Sutherland LLP is a limited liability partnership and is registered in England and Wales with registered number OC348198. Its registered office is at Marble Quay, St. Katharine’s Dock, London E1W 1UH. Arbis Sutherland LLP is authorized and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority of England and Wales whose regulatory requirements can be accessed at http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/handbook/code/content.page. A list of the members of Arbis Sutherland LLP and their professional qualifications is open to inspection at its registered office.

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