SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT BETWEEN
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
HRB BUSINESSES OF FL, INC.
UNDER THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE COMPLAINT NUMBER 202-43-118
Department of Justice Press Release
- The United States Department of Justice is the federal agency responsible for administering and enforcing title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181 - 12189, on behalf of the United States of America ("United States").
- HRB Businesses of FL, Inc. ("HRB") is a corporation and franchisee of H&R Block, Inc., a national company that provides, inter alia, accounting and tax preparation services and training programs. HRB owns or operates the H&R Block office, located at 2459 Highway 1 South, St. Augustine, Florida ("Florida Office") and other offices that provide accounting and tax preparation services and training programs.
- The United States and HRB are the parties ("Parties") to this Settlement Agreement ("Agreement").
- This matter was initiated by a complaint filed under title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181-12189 ("title III"), with the United States with respect to incidents that occurred at the Florida Office.
- The complainant, who is deaf, alleged that in September 2008, HRB and the Florida Office failed to provide him with auxiliary aids and services required to ensure effective communication in connection with its course on tax preparation when it refused to provide him with qualified sign language interpreter services in connection with a training program.
- Pursuant to title III of the ADA, public accommodations must furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities. 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b)(2)(A)(iii); 28 C.F.R. § 36.303(c).
- HRB owns and operates the Florida Office and other offices that provide accounting and tax services and training programs pursuant to a franchise agreement with H&R Block, Inc. HRB's Florida Office and its other offices that provide these services and training programs are places of public accommodation pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 36.104. As the owner and operator of such offices, HRB is a public accommodation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 12181(7)(F), (J) and 28 C.F.R. § 36.104, and is therefore subject to the requirements of title III of the ADA.
- The Attorney General of the United States ("Attorney General") is authorized to investigate complaints and bring a civil action in federal district court under title III in any situation where a pattern or practice of discrimination is believed to exist or where discrimination involving a matter of general public importance is raised. 42 U.S.C. § 12188.
- The United States conducted an investigation into the allegation that HRB refused to provide an individual who is deaf with sign language interpreter services, which were requested in connection with the provision of a tax preparation course. HRB has cooperated in the United States' investigation. The Parties have determined that the United States' complaint 202-43-118 can be resolved without litigation and have prepared and agreed to resolve the matter pursuant to the terms of this Agreement.
- In consideration of the terms of this Agreement, the Attorney General agrees to refrain from undertaking further investigation or filing a civil suit in this matter regarding the incident described in Paragraph 5 of this Agreement, except as provided in the Enforcement and Implementation sections of the Agreement. This Agreement does not resolve any matters with respect to H&R Block, Inc.
- The term "auxiliary aids and services" means: qualified sign language or oral interpreters, note takers, computer-assisted real time transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening devices, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, TTYs, large print materials, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, and other methods of delivering effective communication that may have come into use or will come into existence in the future.
- The terms "qualified sign language interpreter," "oral interpreter," or "interpreter" mean:
an interpreter who is able to interpret competently, accurately and impartially, both
receptively and expressively, using any specialized terminology necessary for effective communication in an office setting with an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing. Someone who has only a rudimentary familiarity with sign language or finger spelling is not a "qualified sign language interpreter" under this Agreement. Likewise, someone who is fluent in sign language but who does not possess the ability to process spoken communication into the proper signs or to observe someone signing and change their signed or finger spelled communication into spoken words is not a qualified sign language interpreter.
- Consistent with the ADA, HRB affirms that it will not discriminate against any individual on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of its goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations by excluding or providing unequal treatment to persons with disabilities.
- Immediately as of the effective date of this Agreement, at all of its offices, HRB will provide to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, that may be necessary for effective communication in connection with its goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations, including its accounting services, tax preparation services, and programs and courses, unless a fundamental alteration would result.
- HRB will adopt, implement, enforce, and maintain, at all of its offices, the "HRB Businesses of FL., Inc. Policy Regarding Effective Communication with Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing" attached hereto as Attachment A (hereinafter, Policy), within sixty (60) days of the effective date of this Agreement.
- HRB will ensure that all of its employees and contractors and those of its offices, whose duties involve interaction with the public, receive a copy of the Policy within sixty (60) days of the effective date of this Agreement. Thereafter, HRB will distribute the Policy to all newly-hired employees and contractors during its regular orientation of new employees and redistribute the Policy to all appropriate personnel on an annual basis for the life of this Agreement. HRB will furnish to the United States, within ninety (90) days of the effective date of this Agreement, documentation confirming its implementation and distribution of the Policy to its employees and contractors.
- Within sixty (60) days of the effective date of this Agreement, HRB will, by and through its offices, establish and maintain a list of qualified sign language interpreters or sign language interpreter agencies that employ or arrange the services of qualified sign language interpreters and oral interpreters to ensure that qualified sign language interpreter services and oral interpreter services are available in each area served by an HRB office. Within ninety (90) days of the effective date of this Agreement, HRB will submit to the United States documentation confirming that each HRB office maintains such a list.
- Within sixty (60) days of the effective date of this Agreement, all HRB office reception areas, employee handbooks, websites, and other written materials, shall contain the Policy in a prominent location. Within ninety (90) days, HRB will provide to the United States documentation of the postings, employee handbooks, and written materials showing compliance with this requirement.
- Within ninety (90) days of the effective date of this Agreement, HRB shall provide to all current employees and contractors of HRB or its offices, whose duties involve interaction with the public, training regarding its responsibilities and duties under the ADA and this Agreement to ensure that all people with disabilities are treated in a nondiscriminatory manner and are afforded the same service and courtesy as that afforded to other customers. The training shall include instruction on the Policy. Thereafter, HRB and its offices will include ADA training, including instruction on the Policy, in its orientation training for new employees and contractors. Within 120 days of the effective date of this Agreement, HRB will submit a list of the employees and contractors trained, and the date and time of their training.
- Immediately as of the effective date of this Agreement, HRB will maintain a log of each request for any auxiliary aids and services made at any of its offices, the time and date the request is made, the name of the individual who made the request, the time and date of the scheduled appointment (if a scheduled appointment was made), the time and date the requested auxiliary aids and services were provided, or a statement that the requested auxiliary aids and services were not provided.
MONETARY RELIEF FOR THE COMPLAINANT
- The ADA authorizes the Attorney General to seek a court award of compensatory damages on behalf of individuals aggrieved as the result of violations of title III of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12188(b)(2)(B); 28 C.F.R. § 36.504(a)(2).
- HRB will compensate the complainant who filed complaint number DJ# 202-43-118 by sending the complainant a certified check made payable to the order of the complainant in the amount of two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500.00), via common carrier Federal Express, delivery prepaid, to the address provided by the United States and will simultaneously send a copy of the check and the accompanying letter to the United States. The United States will obtain the complainant's signature on a copy of the Waiver and Release and Claim Form attached hereto as Attachment B and will notify HRB that it has done so. HRB will send the complainant the certified check made payable to that individual within ten (10) days of receipt of such notification by the United States. The United States will send HRB an original of the release signed by the complainant promptly after confirming receipt of the certified check by that complainant.
- The ADA authorizes the Attorney General to seek a civil penalty as a result of violations of the ADA. 42 U.S.C. § 12188(b)(2)(C); 28 C.F.R. § 36.504(a)(3).
- Within thirty (30) days of the effective date of this Agreement, HRB will issue a check or money order in the amount of five thousand dollars ($5,000) payable to the order of the United States Treasury as a civil penalty and deliver it to counsel for the United States.
- Effective immediately, HRB shall maintain records relating to compliance with this Agreement, which shall be available for inspection and copying by the United States upon reasonable notice. Three (3) months after the effective date of this Agreement, and annually thereafter during the term of this Agreement, HRB will provide a written report ("Report") to the United States regarding its efforts to comply with this Agreement. Each Report will include a factual description of interactions related to effective communication with any clients who are deaf or hard of hearing, without identifying information. The Report shall include an explanation of the determination made by HRB or its offices regarding the provision of auxiliary aids or services. In the event that HRB or its offices do not provide auxiliary aids and services requested by an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing, the Report must state (1) the procedure followed by HRB or its offices in determining whether to provide auxiliary aids and services requested by the individual, and (2) HRB's or its offices' reasons for not providing auxiliary aids and services requested by the individual.
- During the term of this Agreement, HRB will notify the United States if any individual brings any lawsuit, complaint, charge, or grievance alleging that HRB or one of its offices failed to provide auxiliary aids and services requested for any individual(s). Such notification must be provided in writing via certified mail within thirty (30) days of the date that HRB or one of its offices receives notice of the allegation and will include, at a minimum, the nature of the allegation, the name of the individual making the allegation, and all documentation possessed by HRB or one of its offices relevant to the allegation.
- Any violation of this Agreement by HRB will be deemed a subsequent violation of title III as set forth in 28 C.F.R. § 36.504(a)(3)(ii).
- If at any time HRB desires to modify any portion of this Agreement because of changed conditions making performance impossible or impractical or for any other reason, it will promptly notify the United States in writing, setting forth the facts and circumstances thought to justify modification and the substance of the proposed modification. Until there is written Agreement by the United States to the proposed modification, the proposed modification will not take effect. These actions must receive the prior written approval of the United States, which approval shall not be unreasonably withheld or delayed.
- The United States may review compliance with this Agreement at any time. If the United States believes that HRB has failed to comply in a timely manner with any requirement of this Agreement without obtaining sufficient advance written agreement with the United States for a modification of the relevant terms, the United States will so notify HRB in writing, and it will attempt to resolve the issue or issues in good faith. If the United States is unable to reach a satisfactory resolution of the issue or issues raised within thirty (30) days of the date it provides notice to HRB, it may institute a civil action in federal district court to enforce the terms of this Agreement or title III and may, in such action, seek any relief available under law.
- For purposes of the immediately preceding paragraph, it is a violation of this Agreement for HRB to fail to comply in a timely manner with any of its requirements without obtaining sufficient advance written Agreement with the United States for an extension of the relevant time frame imposed by the Agreement.
- Failure by the United States to enforce this entire Agreement or any provision thereof with regard to any deadline or any other provision herein shall not be construed as a waiver of the United States's right to enforce other deadlines and provisions of this Agreement.
- This Agreement shall be binding on HRB, its subsidiaries, and its and their agents, employees, and contractors. In the event HRB seeks to transfer or assign all or part of its interest in any entity covered by this Agreement, and the successor or assignee intends on carrying on the same or similar use of the entity, as a condition of sale HRB shall obtain the written accession of the successor or assignee to any obligations remaining under this Agreement for the remaining term of this Agreement.
- A copy of this document or any information contained in it will be made available to any person by HRB or the United States on request.
- This Agreement, including Attachments A and B, constitutes the entire Agreement between the Parties on the matters raised herein, and no other statement, promise, or agreement, either written or oral, made by either party or agents of either party, that is not contained in this written Agreement (including its Attachments), shall be enforceable. This Agreement does not purport to remedy any other potential violations of the ADA or any other federal law. This Agreement does not affect HRB's continuing responsibility to comply with all aspects of the ADA.
- This Agreement will remain in effect for three (3) years from the effective date of this Agreement, or until the Parties agree that full compliance by HRB has been achieved, whichever is later.
- The person signing this Agreement for HRB represents that he is authorized to bind HRB to this Agreement.
- The effective date of this Agreement is the date of the last signature below.
|FOR HRB BUSINESSES OF FL,
|FOR THE UNITED STATES:
PATRICK D. MANROSE, Owner
HRB Businesses of FL, Inc.
P.O. Box 1486
Corbin, KY 40702
THOMAS E. PEREZ
Assistant Attorney General
SAMUEL R. BAGENSTOS
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
JOHN L. WODATCH, Chief
PHILIP L. BREEN, Special Legal Counsel
Disability Rights Section
JEANINE WORDEN, Deputy Chief
JENNIFER K. McDANNELL, Supervisory Attorney
SUSAN H. CRAWFORD, Investigator
Disability Rights Section - NYA
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20530
(202) 307-1378 (phone)
(202) 514-7821 (fax)
Dated: March 18, 2010
HRB BUSINESSES OF FL, INC.
POLICY REGARDING EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
FOR INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE DEAF OR HARD OF HEARING
Customers who are deaf or hard of hearing, or with other communication disabilities, are to be informed that HRB Businesses of FL, Inc. ("HRB") will arrange for appropriate auxiliary aids and services necessary for effective communication when requested by the customer or on the customer's behalf. HRB agrees to provide all appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, required under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 free of charge to its customers.
General Assessment Criteria. The determination of which appropriate auxiliary aids and services are necessary, and the timing, duration and frequency with which they will be provided, will be made by HRB personnel who are otherwise primarily responsible for coordinating and/or providing customer services, in consultation with the customer where possible. The assessment will take into account all relevant facts and circumstances, including without limitation the following:
(a) The nature, length and importance of the communication at issue;
(b) The individual's communication skills and knowledge;
(c) The individual's request or statement of need for an interpreter;
(d) The availability at the required times of appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters.
Time for Assessment. The determination of which appropriate auxiliary aids and services are necessary must be made at the time HRB services are requested or an appointment is scheduled, whichever occurs first. HRB personnel will perform and document in the customer's file a communication assessment as part of each initial assessment. HRB personnel shall reassess which appropriate auxiliary aids and services are necessary, in consultation with the customer where possible, in the event that communication is not effective.
WAIVER AND RELEASE OF CLAIMS
I, _________________________, hereby agree that in consideration of the terms set forth in the Settlement Agreement between the United States of America and HRB Businesses of FL, Inc., I hereby release HRB Businesses of FL, Inc. and all of its agents, employees, and contractors, as well as any affiliated entities, successors, and assigns, without limitation from any and all legal claims arising from or related to the facts and circumstances described in the Settlement Agreement resolving Department of Justice complaint number 202-43-118 under title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This includes, but is not limited to, all claims for monetary or equitable relief that I may have under federal, state, or local law. I have been advised that, before signing this release, I have the right to consult a private attorney regarding its contents. I have read this release and understand its contents, and choose to sign it of my own free will and not under duress.
AGREED TO AND SIGNED this _________ day of _________, 2010.
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March 18, 2010