Federal judge tosses out disability lawsuit against Epic

A federal judge on Friday dismissed a blind advocacy group's lawsuit against electronic health records (EHRs) giant Epic.

The National Federation of the Blind sued Epic in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts accusing the EHR vendor of violating the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act. The lawsuit was filed early last year.

The advocacy group argued that because Epic sells and licenses EHR software to hospitals and health systems that's inaccessible to blind users, the company discriminates against blind people who work in the healthcare industry, because it doesn’t give them access to the computerized records.

The lawsuit sought a permanent injunction prohibiting Epic from continuing to sell or install software to Massachusetts companies if it is not accessible to blind people.

"While Epic has taken steps to make patient-facing portions of its electronic health record software accessible so that blind patients are able to access their health information with screen reading software, Epic has not made the clinical or administration-facing portions of its software accessible to blind healthcare workers," the National Federation of the Blind claimed in the case.

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The inaccessibility of Epic’s software interferes with blind individuals’ ability to obtain or perform jobs, the advocacy group argued. "Many blind individuals are deterred from applying for employment with healthcare providers that use Epic’s software," the group stated.

In the lawsuit, the advocacy group cited a blind hospital dispatcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who was able to perform his job until May 2015 by using a screen reading technology that converts written data to the spoken word or to Braille.

The hospital then replaced that technology with Epic's software, and the dispatcher could no longer do his job and was placed on a paid leave of absence. In 2017, the employee sued the hospital, Partners Healthcare and Epic, and the complaint was settled on terms that were not disclosed, according to the lawsuit.

The case against Epic was pursued, separately, on behalf of all blind healthcare workers, the group said.

A federal judge in Massachusetts said Epic’s knowing sale of software that is inaccessible to blind users is not enough to trigger liability for its customers’ treatment of their blind employees.

"If NFB’s argument is taken to its logical conclusion, no company could sell any product to employers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that was not fully accessible to employee users with a range of disabilities," Senior U.S. District Judge Rya Weickert Zobel wrote in the decision to grant Epic's motion to dismiss the complaint.

Epic said in a statement Monday that the company "has been and remains committed to creating software for persons of all abilities."

"We value and support our customers’ employees who use assistive technologies with Epic and other software to do their jobs each day," Epic executives said in a statement provided by company spokesperson Ashley Gibson.

In a document filed with the court, Epic Senior Vice President Sumit Rana said Epic’s software is being used by more than 1,300 hospitals and clinics in Massachusetts, the Associated Press reported.

To make them all comply with the lawsuit’s demands “would require thousands of person-hours and certainly cost more than $75,000,” he said, according to the AP.

The advocacy group said in its complaint that it will continue to expend resources on this type of litigation until EHR software is fully accessible to the blind.