The success of Redbox Automated Retail DVD rentals is undeniable after capturing more than 33 percent of the national market, but one Orange County man believes the operation is callously discriminatory against deaf customers and he's demanding compensation.
Bellevue, Washington-based Redbox has illegally "failed to provide equal access to their DVD and Blu-ray and video streaming services by refusing to make available closed captioned text for the deaf and hard of hearing–a feature that is necessary for such individuals to understand the audio portion of the video content," according to Francis Jancik's lawsuit.
In Jancik's view, Redbox's self-service, DVD rental kiosks are "places of public accommodation" and therefore fall under the requirements of The California Disabled Persons Act, the state's Unruh Civil Rights Act and The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
The problem with Redbox for the deaf is that "it is difficult, if not impossible" to know in advance which movies include closed captioning, according to the lawsuit.
As examples of what Jancik sees as unfair business practices, his lawsuit includes Redbox advertisements for Assault on Wall Street and The Adventures of Mickey Matson: Cooperhead Treasure; both ads erroneously claim closed caption service.
As compensation for these alleged law violations, Jancik seeks class action status and rewards to offended parties of $5,000 per violation, which could mean millions of dollars in claimed damages given that the company has more than 42,000 busy kiosks nationwide.
Redbox officials responded to the lawsuit by pointing out they don't have control over the closed captioning of the DVDs and are merely a distribution conduit of the films for consumers.
Inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana this month, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter didn't buy the plaintiff's argument against Redbox and gave an analogy of why the government can't force the company to impose ADA requirements on film producers.
"A bookstore cannot discriminate against disabled people in granting access, but need not assure that the books are available in Braille as well as print," reasoned Carter about the requirement of the ADA. "[The law] does not require a place of public accommodation to alter its inventory to include accessible or special goods that are designed for, or facilitate use by, individuals with disabilities."
Jancik also complained that Redbox's video streaming service violated the laws, but Carter rejected the assertion that those services mandated public accommodation requirements for the disabled.
Without hearing oral arguments but after dissecting the issues in a 13-page ruling, the judge–a 1998 appointee by President William Jefferson Clinton–dismissed all six of Jancik's claims (including the false advertising assertions) and gave him a June 13 deadline to file an amended complaint–or see his case thrown out of court.
California is a hotbed for aggressive ADA-type lawsuits, a fact that has led corporate executives and small business owners to back anti-lawsuit abuse proposals.
Go HERE to see my related 2006 cover story: The New Crips: An ex-drug dealer and burglar leads a wheelchair posse terrorizing Southern California businesses. Would you believe he has the law on his side?