Netflix Faces Discrimination Lawsuit in Massachusetts; Accused of Violating Americans with Disabilities Act

Advocates for the deaf have filed a discrimination lawsuit in Massachusetts against Netflix, alleging that the Internet movie company is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by not providing closed captioning, Reuters News Service reported.

Massachusetts general counsel attorneys understand that the employment context is not the only area where a company can run afoul of state and federal discrimination laws. Violations may occur as it relates to customers. In particular, Internet companies in Massachusetts and elsewhere may be particularly susceptible to being targeted by many different types of lawsuits because of the diversity of state laws one must comply with when doing business from coast to coast.
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The National Association of the Deaf filed the lawsuit in Massachusetts federal court — claiming Netflix is violating the ADA by not offering equal access to its “watch instantly” videos.

“We have tried for years to persuade Netflix to do the right thing and provide equal access to all content across all platforms. They chose not to serve our community on an equal basis; we must have equal access to the biggest provider of streamed entertainment. As Netflix itself acknowledges, streamed video is the future and we must not be left out,” said NAD President Bobbie Beth Scoggins.

There are an estimated 36 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing. Other parties to the lawsuit include the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired (WMAD/HI) and a deaf Massachusetts resident. “While streaming (video) provides more access to entertainment to the general public, it threatens to be yet another barrier to people who are deaf and hard of hearing,” the lawsuit said.

A similar lawsuit has also been filed against Time Warner. Both suits seek to force the companies to provide captioning for all online streaming video. The suit claims Netflix does so for less than 5 percent of its videos. For its part, Netflix said it is aware of the issue but has had technical difficulties in providing closed captioning for online videos.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that places of entertainment provide “full and equal enjoyment” for people with disabilities.

The case is NAD et al v. Netflix. It says, with over 60 percent of the market, Netflix is the industry leader in streamed movies and television shows and has an obligation to provide for the deaf. The videos can be played online or on television through a compatible device, including PlayStation 3, Wii and Xbox 360 game system. Without access to closed captions, the deaf do not have the same access to enjoy the programs as those who are not hearing impaired, according to the lawsuit.

The Time Warner lawsuit was filed by the Greater Los Angeles Agency of Deafness and several local residents. It claims the company has refused to caption videos on CNN.com
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