H&R Block gets sued by the DOJ and loses BIG
Justice Department Enters Consent Decree with National Tax Preparer H&R Block Requiring Accessibility of Websites and Mobile Apps Under Americans with Disabilities Act
Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels of the Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz of the District of Massachusetts announced today that they have entered into a consent decree with HRB Digital LLC and HRB Tax Group Inc., subsidiaries of H&R Block Inc., to remedy alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The decree resolves the department’s allegations that individuals with disabilities are denied full and equal enjoyment of largely tax-preparation-focused goods and services that are provided through H&R Block’s website and mobile applications. The decree has been filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts for the court’s approval.
On Dec. 11, 2013, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts filed a complaint in intervention in the lawsuit National Federal of the Blind (NFB) et al. v. HRB Digital LLC et al. to enforce Title III of the ADA. The decree resolves the complaints by the NFB, two individual plaintiffs, and the United States filed in the District of Massachusetts.
H&R Block is one of the largest tax return preparers in the United States. It offers a wide range of services through its website, www.hrblock.com, and its mobile apps, including professional and do-it-yourself tax preparation, instructional videos, office location information, interactive live video conference and chat with tax professionals, online and in-store services, and electronic tax-return filing.
The complaint alleged that H&R Block failed to code its website in a manner that would make it accessible to individuals who have vision, hearing, and physical disabilities. As described in the complaint, individuals with disabilities use various assistive technologies to access the Internet, including screen reader software, refreshable Braille displays, keyboard navigation, and captioning, among others that are not currently compatible with H&R Block’s website. These technologies have been widely used for decades. The recognized international industry standards for web accessibility, known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, can be found online and are freely available to help companies ensure that individuals with disabilities can fully and equally enjoy their web-based goods and services.
“This landmark decree ensures that individuals with disabilities will have an equal opportunity to independently and conveniently obtain information and complete taxes as others do,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuels. “H&R Block is to be commended for working with the NFB and the Justice Department in resolving to take such steps.”
“For those with disabilities, an inaccessible website puts them at a great disadvantage and further perpetuates a feeling of dependence and reliance on others,” said U.S. Attorney Ortiz. “With thoughtful and proper web design, businesses and organizations can have a great impact on the daily lives of people with disabilities who, like everyone else, seek to enjoy the benefits of technology.”
Under the terms of the five-year decree, H&R Block’s website, tax filing utility, and mobile apps will conform to the Level AA Success Criteria of the WCAG 2.0. According to the decree, the H&R Block website will be accessible for the start of the next tax-filing term on Jan. 1, 2015, with additional accessibility deadlines over the following years of the decree. Additionally, HRB Digital and HRB Tax Group have agreed to: appoint a skilled web accessibility coordinator who will report to H&R Block’s enterprise Chief Information Officer; adopt a web accessibility policy; initiate training on accessible design for its web content personnel; evaluate employee and contractor performance based on successful web access programming; conduct regular automated and user group testing, and hire an approved outside consultant to prepare annual independent evaluations of Block’s online accessibility. H&R Block will also pay $45,000 to the two individual plaintiffs, and a $55,000 civil penalty.