My Thoughts on Payan v. LACCD

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer or paralegal. The following are simply my analyses and commentary on the Payan versus LACCD case from the standpoint of someone interested in law. These thoughts are personal and do not necessarily represent the views of my employers.

Hey, y’all, Derek here to provide my thoughts on the Payan v. LACCD case. I was made aware of the case this morning after seeing DREDF post about it on Twitter (they have a great explainer here, as well as a petition). This case is a direct challenge to the ADA and is extremely important to the disability community.

The case started when a few Blind students sued the Los Angeles Community College District due to inaccessible course materials. The school argued on the basis of disparate impact, or that the discrimination was unintentional and systemic, and because of those qualifiers, it did not need to be rectified and could not be acted upon in court. This is false.

The ADA requires all institutions to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled people, and in conjunction with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, extends that requirement to educational institutions. These students made repeated requests for rectification on the matters of course material inaccessibility. The only way LACCD could logically “get out” of providing these accommodations is if doing so would place undue hardship on the organization. Rectifying this issue would not place undue hardship on LACCD, the largest community college district in the US. As such, the case was brought.

Courts have agreed with LACCD in some aspects, allowing their claims of disparate impact on the front of the website and library to stand, as they affect a broader population than the students who brought the case. However, the basic fact that the named students were discriminated against also stands. This led to the dismissal of LACCD’s attempt at limiting enforceability of the ADA due to disparate impact.

Essentially, the ruling from the appeals court boils down to one quote from the proceedings: “Section 504 and the ADA were specifically intended to address both intentional discrimination and discrimination caused by ‘thoughtless indifference’ or ‘benign neglect,’ such as physical barriers to access public facilities.” This ruling had one dissent, and the case was left open to escalation as the appellate court reversed the district court’s ruling.

LACCD has now planned to file a SCOTUS petition regarding this matter on March 4, 2022. It is likely LACCD will lose this case, as it would take an extreme interpretation of the law for them to win. However, the implications of success for LACCD would be grave. According to the DREDF interpretation (linked above), if LACCD succeeds, “the Supreme Court will rule that the ADA and Section 504 do not prohibit “disparate impact” or unintentional discrimination.” With this form of discrimination being most common, its prohibition is at the heart of the ADA and Section 504. A ruling in this manner, though unlikely, would essentially gut the ADA.

As I mentioned, it is very unlikely that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of LACCD. The plaintiffs (Payan) have won the case twice in all lower courts. It would take an extreme interpretation of the law, which would overturn all precedent, for the college to win. Even though the court is majoritarily conservative, it is unlikely they would interpret the bipartisan law in a manner that would allow LACCD to win.

Though the probability of LACCD losing their case is very high, we must also remember the implications of LACCD winning as we evaluate this case. I urge you to join me in signing the petition and following this case closely. Thank you for reading.

(Psst, if you like this analysis, feel free to share it or tip me! Thank you!)