HOUSTON-Just as credit unions thought suits over ATMs would abate due to new disclosure rules, a new kind of ATM suit alleging violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act's access for the blind is popping up in several states.
At least 20 suits targeting credit unions and banks-all filed by the same Pittsburgh attorney with a Delaware advocacy group called Blind Ambitions-have been filed in federal courts in Pennsylvania and Texas over the past two months. The latest suits, naming Houston FCU, First Community CU, and Security One FCU, have been filed on behalf of legally blind plaintiffs who say the credit union ATMs do not comply with provisions of the ADA requiring that all ATMs are fully accessible to visually impaired consumers.
Filing of the latest legal claims come as Congress has put a halt to new suits over ATM fees by eliminating the requirement for dual disclosures on non-customer charges, even as dozens of legal claims against credit unions and banks are still pending.
Most of the new suits, being filed by R. Bruce Carlson, a prolific plaintiffs' attorney in Pittsburgh, are being settled out of court in exchange for pledges by the credit union or bank to upgrade their ATMs with the acceptable technology and an agreement for the ATM owner to pay legal fees.
Both Blind Ambitions and Carlson have declined numerous requests for comment from Credit Union Journal. Several credit unions being sued also declined comment.
In a suit filed last week by Victoria Gilkerson, a legally blind Texas woman, says she was unable to use two ATMs owned by Houston FCU because they are inaccessible to the blind. Gilkerson also sued First Community CU of Houston, as well as Chasewood Bank and Texas First Bank, among 19 ADA suits she has brought since last May.
What's At Issue
Under 2010 revisions to the 1991 ADA, all ATMs must be made accessible to visually impaired customers by being speech enabled, with tactile (sense of touch) keys, with Braille instructions initiating speech mode. The requirements became fully enacted March 12, 2012, and the suits commenced soon after.
Gilkerson, who seeks class action status for her suit, says the two Houston credit unions' ATMs violate the law by failing to provide audible account balance information, tactile-symbol keys, voice guidance or Braille instructions.
Other credit unions facing pending ADA suits are MemberSource CU, Premier America CU, American Heritage FCU, and more than a dozen credit unions have settled claims filed by Carlson clients over the past eight months.