Lawsuit Challenges World’s Largest Professional Human Resource Membership Association’s Failure to Follow Disability Law

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July 21, 2021– San Francisco, CA—Yesterday Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) filed a class action lawsuit against the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on behalf of Deaf Human Resource (HR) professionals who do not have equal access to SHRM’s services because SHRM fails to provide accommodations like sign language interpreters, captioning, and timely transcripts for SHRM’s continuing education programming. SHRM is the largest professional human resources membership association in the world and provides some of the most widely recognized HR professional certifications. Read the complaint here.

SHRM offers popular certifications for HR professionals that are critical for career advancement and skills development. Individuals may obtain these certifications through examinations and must maintain them through re-examination or continuing education. SHRM offers courses to prepare for its certification examinations as well as a variety of programming, most of which is eligible for credit-earning toward recertification.

Although SHRM offers training about how HR professionals can help their companies comply with disability law and provide accommodations to employees, it fails to provide consistent, reliable accommodations to Deaf professionals to access its own services, subjecting them instead to a different and worse experience than hearing people. Plaintiffs cannot tell in advance if SHRM’s advertised educational content will be offered in an accessible format, such as with closed captioning or live sign language interpretation. SHRM does not provide clear instructions on how individuals can request accommodations. And even if Plaintiffs and other Deaf SHRM customers are able to make such a request through SHRM’s convoluted customer service systems, the request is often mishandled and results at best in inadequate and delayed accommodations.

SHRM’s failure to provide equal access to its content to Deaf members and potential members violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and California state disability access laws.

Plaintiff Tiffany Ruffa, states that “Inclusive communication is not only about our rights for accessibility, but it’s also about SHRM imparting their business and knowledge to our Deaf HR Professional world. The more inclusive their communication is, the more SHRM benefits from the diverse experience, skills, and knowledge that we have, and the more Deaf individuals are fully integrated into the HR professional world.”

Plaintiff Kathryn Canfield notes that “SHRM certification, like many industries that offer certification, is often a measurement of one’s qualifications and knowledge of SHRM competencies. As a Deaf person, without full access to the range of SHRM’s offerings, I am unable to utilize or maximize the wealth of information available for myself and my business. Human resources, as a field, has traditionally been shut off to Deaf people, mainly because the information was inaccessible for those who are Deaf and use American Sign Language (ASL).”

DRA staff attorney, Meredith Weaver, said “Because SHRM acts as a gatekeeper to the HR industry, its discrimination against members and potential customers who are Deaf results in an industry-wide dearth of Deaf professionals represented in American human resource departments and leadership positions. SHRM is part of a structural problem that must change.”

This lawsuit aims to require SHRM to ensure that its services are made and maintained accessible to individuals who are Deaf, pursuant to the ADA and related state laws.

About Disability Rights Advocates

Founded in 1993, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) is a leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-change, class action cases. DRA is proud to have upheld the promise of the ADA since our inception. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting and housing. For more information, visit www.dralegal.org

Contacts

Meredith Weaver: mweaver@dralegal.org 510-665-8644

Emily Seelenfreund: eseelenfreund@dralegal.org 510-665-8644