Do you solicit and accept employment applicants electronically? If so, assume a potential applicant has physical or other disabilities making it difficult for him or her to apply. Do you have a risk under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, or under Ohio or other disability discrimination laws? You may.

Kasper v. Motor Co. was decided March 22, 2019 by the Federal Court for the Northern District of Ohio. The case is good reason for all companies using online systems for hiring to examine the extent to which their process is accessible to persons with disabilities.

According to the decision, Ford typically accepts job applications only through its website portal unless an applicant makes a request for an accommodation by calling a hotline telephone number referenced on the website. Kasper claims that because of his cognitive disabilities he was unable to follow Ford’s alternative hotline phone number procedure to apply for a job. He says that in order to effectively use the hotline an applicant has to first navigate for information available only through the website. Kasper is suing Ford on behalf of himself and a class of other prospective applicants with disabilities who claim they were unable to apply through the Ford website.

Accessibility and online employment applications

The court decided various motions by Ford to narrow the scope of the case. Some of Kasper’s claims will not go forward. But, the Court did allow Kasper to proceed with his class action claim for failure to accommodate.  The case is similar in many respects to cases that have been filed challenging various employers for using online web-based application systems that do not provide software making them accessible for blind or site impaired applicants.

This is a developing and as yet unsettled area of the law. The extent to which an employer must have an accessible online application system and the specific nature of accessibility modifications that should be made remains uncertain. Some guidance is available in the developing law concerning website accessibility in public accommodations. But this much is clear: employers are responsible to make their application processes accessible by means of reasonable accommodations; any company relying on online application systems should, at a minimum, provide a clear and easily accessible alternative means of contact to be used by disabled persons unable to use the website to apply. Employers should also evaluate other available means for making their online systems more accessible to persons with disabilities.