I am writing this post about a case called Orozo v. Garland. The link will take you to a page about the case on the website of Public Justice. Public Justice is one of the firms that represented Jahinnslerth
Orozo (Orozo) in his appeal against Merrick Garland in his capacity as the attorney general of the United States. I linked to the page from Public Justice, not the court’s opinion, because the page from Public Justice is easier to understand than the opinion may be for most people.
Orozo has worked as an intelligence analyst for the FBI since 2012. Orozo is blind and uses screen readers to do his job. In order to perform some of the essential functions of his job, Orozco is required to use a web-based system developed by the FBI called Sentinel. In order too perform administrative functions related to his job including filing travel requests, reimbursements, and others, Orozco must use software called Enterprise Process Automation System. Both Sentinel and Enterprise Process Automation System are inaccessible.
After filing multiple internal appeals and getting no assistance from the Department of Justice, Orozco sued the attorney general claiming the inaccessible software violates Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 508).
Without getting too far into the weeds, Section 508 was added to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in 1988. It requires almost all information and communication technology (ICT) to be accessible to people with disabilities. This includes most software, hardware, and web content used by employees of the federal government. I will talk much more about Section 508 in a future episode of the podcast.
In the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss was granted and Orozco appealed to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The Dc Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the district court’s decision to dismiss Orozco’s case.
To avoid getting overly technical, I will say the Circuit Court’s opinion matters, because it is the first time a circuit court (which is higher than a district court) has considered whether private suits can be filed against federal agencies for violations of Section 508. All of the previous cases that considered whether Section 508 can be enforced through the filing of lawsuits were ruled on at the district court level. In all of those cases, the court found that Section 508 does not allow lawsuits when Section 508 is being violated by federal agencies.
It truly angers me that the Biden administration has so far chosen to defend the idea that Section 508 does not allow employees of the federal government to sue when their rights under Section 508 are being violated by the federal government; additionally, the arguments advanced by the Department of Justice, if adopted, would effectively result in a situation where no person, whether they are employed by the federal government or not, could sue when the government violates Section 508. If the Biden administration pursues this case and wins through a later appeal, Section 508 will almost be irrelevant. Without the threat of legal action, federal agencies will have even less of a reason to comply with Section 508.
At this point, we are waiting to see what the Department of Justice will do. But I’m afraid, given the composition of the court, that if the government takes the case to the Supreme Court, the government will win and Section 508 will no longer have any real teeth. That result would have a chilling affect on the ability of those of us with disabilities to hold the government accountable when it violates our right to accessible digital content as set forth in Section 508.