Notice of Settlement: National Association of the Deaf v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

NOTICE OF PROPOSED SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

ATTENTION: ALL PEOPLE WHO ARE DEAF OR HARD OF HEARING WHO WANT CAPTIONING OF MIT’S ONLINE CONTENT

If you are deaf or hard of hearing and have tried to access or would like to access online video content of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (“MIT”) with captions or to access MIT’s online audio content with a transcript, you may be a member of the proposed Settlement Class affected by this lawsuit. The Settlement Class in this case does not include students of MIT.  This is a court-authorized notice.

PLEASE READ THIS NOTICE CAREFULLY. YOUR RIGHTS MAY
BE AFFECTED BY LEGAL PROCEEDINGS IN THIS CASE.

NOTICE OF CLASS ACTION

The purpose of this notice is to inform you of a proposed settlement in a pending class action lawsuit brought by the National Association of the Deaf (“NAD”) and three Deaf plaintiffs on behalf of deaf and hard of hearing individuals against MIT.  The case is titled National Association of the Deaf v. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, No. 3:15-cv-30024-KAR, and is pending in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.  The proposed class action settlement (“Settlement”) is set forth in a proposed Consent Decree, which must be approved by the United States District Court. 

BACKGROUND

This lawsuit alleges that MIT violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide captioning for its publicly available online content. Plaintiffs and other deaf and hard of hearing individuals alleged that they attempted to access MIT’s publicly available online content but were unable to do so because it did not have captions or had inaccurate captions.  

This is a class action. In a class action, one or more people or organizations, called Class Representatives (in this case the National Association of the Deaf, C. Wayne Dore, Christy Smith, and Lee Nettles (“Plaintiffs”)), sue on behalf of people who have similar legal claims. All of these people are a Class or Class Members. One court resolves the issues for all Class Members. United States Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson is in charge of this class action.

The Court did not decide in favor of either Plaintiffs or MIT in this case. Instead, both sides agreed to a settlement. That way, they avoid the cost, delay, and uncertainty of a trial. The settlement provides benefits that go to the Class Members. The Class Representatives and Class Counsel (the attorneys appointed by the Court to represent the Class) think the proposed settlement is in the best interests of the Class Members, taking into account the benefits of the settlement, the risks of continued litigation, and the delay in obtaining relief for the Class if the litigation continues.

THE SETTLEMENT CLASS

The Settlement Class includes all persons (other than students of MIT) who, at any time between February 11, 2012 and the date of preliminary approval of this settlement, have claimed or could have claimed to assert a right under Title III of the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and/or other federal, state or local statutes or regulations that set forth standards or obligations coterminous with or equivalent to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act or any of the rules or regulations promulgated thereunder, alleging that they are deaf or hard of hearing and that MIT has failed to make accessible to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing online content posted and available for the general public that is produced, created, hosted, linked to, or embedded by MIT.

SUMMARY OF THE PROPOSED SETTLEMENT

The following is a summary of certain provisions of the Settlement.  The complete Settlement, set forth in the proposed Consent Decree, is available as set forth below.

The Settlement requires MIT to caption content on Covered MIT Webpages as follows:

  • Content posted by faculty or employees acting within the scope of their employment, or any MIT Sponsored Student Group (as defined by the Association of Student Activities), on or after the date 60 days after the Effective Date will include captioning when posted.
  • Content posted by faculty or employees acting within the scope of their employment, or any MIT Sponsored Student Group (as defined by the Association of Student Activities), prior to January 1, 2019 will be captioned upon request within seven business days. 
  • Content posted by faculty or employees acting within in the scope of their employment, or any MIT Sponsored Student Group (as defined by the Association of Student Activities), after January 1, 2019 but before the date 60 days after the Effective Date will be captioned as soon as practicable but no later than one year from the Effective Date, or upon request within seven days.

“Covered MIT Webpages” means public webpages within the MIT.edu domain and corresponding public platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud channels operated by MIT, with the exception of certain specific student, alumni, and organization pages.

MIT will also provide live captioning for certain university-wide events for which live streaming is made publicly available. 

The settlement also requires MIT to report to NAD on its compliance with these terms and establishes a process by which members of the public can request that content be captioned.    

RELEASE OF CLAIMS

The Settlement resolves and releases all claims for injunctive, declaratory, or other non-monetary relief and attorneys’ fees and costs that were brought or could have been brought against MIT relating to the lack of captioning or accurate captioning of free online audio or video content for the general public that is produced, created, hosted, linked to, or embedded by MIT. 

REASONABLE ATTORNEYS’ FEES, COSTS AND EXPENSES

The settlement class is represented by the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, the Disability Law Center, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the National Association of the Deaf, and the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC (“Class Counsel”). MIT has agreed not to oppose Class Counsel’s request for an award of their reasonable attorneys’ fees, expenses, and costs in the amount of $1,050,000.  This amount is subject to the approval by the Court. 

FAIRNESS OF SETTLEMENT

The Class Representatives and Class Counsel have concluded that the terms and conditions of the proposed Settlement are fair, reasonable, adequate, and in the best interests of the Settlement Class. In reaching this conclusion, the Class Representatives and Class Counsel have considered the benefits of the settlement, the possible outcomes of continued litigation of these issues, the expense and length of continued litigation, and actual and possible appeals.

THE COURT’S FINAL APPROVAL/FAIRNESS HEARING

The Court has preliminarily approved the Settlement, and has scheduled a hearing for July 14, 2020 at 11:00 am in the Hampshire Courtroom, 300 State Street, Springfield, Massachusetts 01105 to decide whether the proposed Settlement is fair, reasonable, and adequate, and should be finally approved. Although you are not required to attend, as a Settlement Class Member, you have the right to attend and be heard at this hearing, as specified in the next section below. At the hearing, the Court will consider any objections to the Settlement.  Judge Robertson will listen to people who have asked to speak at the hearing. After the hearing, the Court will decide whether to approve the Settlement. The Court will also consider the agreed upon amount to award Class Counsel as reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs and litigation expenses. We do not know how long this decision will take.

If the Court approves the Settlement, all Class members will be bound by the provisions of the Settlement with respect to claims against MIT for injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees and relating to captioning of online content.

OBJECTIONS TO THE SETTLEMENT

If you wish to object to the Settlement or to speak at the hearing, you must send any objection and/or notice of your intent to appear at the hearing to the Court in writing on or before May 19, 2020, and include the case number (Civil Action No. 3:15-cv-30024), to the following address:  Clerk of the Court, US Courthouse, 300 State Street, Springfield, Massachusetts 01105. 

You may also object by filling out this form:  https://public.mad.uscourts.gov/FairnessHearing.html

Please note that the Court can only approve or deny the Settlement.  The Court cannot change the Settlement’s terms.

All objections must be submitted or postmarked on or before May 19, 2020.

Any Class Member who does not object at or before the Final Approval Hearing will be deemed to have approved the Settlement and to have waived such objections and shall not be able to make any objections (by appeal or otherwise) to the Settlement.

IF YOU DO NOT OPPOSE THIS SETTLEMENT, YOU NEED NOT
APPEAR OR FILE ANYTHING IN WRITING.

FURTHER INFORMATION

The terms of the Settlement are only summarized in this notice. For the precise and full terms and conditions of the Settlement, please see the proposed Consent Decree available at http://www.MITcaptioningsettlement.com/consentdecree, by accessing the Court docket on this case through the Court’s Public Access to Electronic Records (PACER) system at https://www.pacer.gov, or by visiting the office of the Clerk of the Court for the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, 300 State Street, Springfield, Massachusetts 01105, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding Court holidays.

You can also obtain more detailed information about the Settlement or a copy of the Settlement Agreement by calling 240-468-7109 (videophone) or 800-308-1878 (voice), by emailing MITsettlement@creeclaw.org, or by contacting Class Counsel by mail at any of the following addresses:

Thomas P. Murphy
Disability Law Center, Inc.
32 Industrial Drive East Northampton, MA 01060

Amy F. Robertson
Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center
1245 E. Colfax Ave., Suite 400 Denver, CO  80218

Joseph M. Sellers
Shaylyn Cochran
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC
1100 New York Ave NW, Fifth Floor Washington DC 20005

Arlene Mayerson
Carly Myers
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Inc.
3075 Adeline Street Suite 210 Berkeley, CA 94703

Howard Rosenblum
The National Association of The Deaf Law and Advocacy Center
8630 Fenton Street, Suite 820 Silver Spring, MD 20910

Please do not direct questions to the District Court.  To obtain copies of this Notice or the Consent Decree in alternative accessible formats, please contact Class Counsel listed above.