Sanctioned Austin ADA attorney now targeting websites

Attorney claims healthcare websites don't meet standards for the disability community, according to court filings

KXAN (AUSTIN) — A Texas attorney, known for filing hundreds of Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits in Austin, now appears to be peppering healthcare businesses across the state with letters asking the recipient to pay $2,000 or be sued for alleged ADA website violations. The letters related to alleged ADA website violations have landed in mailboxes from Amarillo to Beaumont.

Omar Weaver Rosales' "demand" letters and threats of litigation are a new twist to a familiar pattern, according to longtime civil rights attorney Jim Harrington. Harrington announced Wednesday he is forming the Texas ADA Defense Project. The Defense Project will combat "exploitative" litigation threats, such as those sent by Rosales, that could undermine the integrity of ADA law, Harrington said in a news release. Harrington retired in 2015 from the Texas Civil Rights Project, which he founded.

"This is about as close to a shakedown as you can get."

"This is about as close to a shakedown as you can get," Harrington said. "Rosales sends a draft of a suit, with himself as plaintiff, to scare people into paying him $2,000. This is a perverted use of the ADA."

KXAN contacted Rosales by email for a comment, but he did not respond before publishing time. Rosales has defended his lawsuits in the past, saying they are necessary to improve accessibility for the disability community.

"The ADA has been law for almost 30 years," Rosales told KXAN previously in an interview. "We're here fighting these cases and without the work, nobody cares, and the work won't get done to make the buildings compliant."

Rosales' "demand" letter is accompanied by an unfiled lawsuit alleging a business' website violates ADA law, according to one example provided by Harrington.

In the letter provided by Harrington, Rosales says people who are disabled such as himself use websites to book medical treatment, and the websites must comply with new web content accessibility guidelines called WCAG 2.0 AA. According to the potential lawsuit, Rosales claims he surveyed the website, and it failed a compliance test. Rosales also says the website owner must "self-report to the Department of Health and Human Services and forfeit any Federal funds received until you have completed recertification," according to the letter.

"Our Initial Demand to settle this unfiled lawsuit is $2,000," Rosales' letter states. "Should you refuse to enter settlement negotiations, I will have no choice but to file the attached lawsuit against your company. I will also contact DHHS and discuss the possibility of a separate civil suit under Qui Tam doctrine to obtain reimbursement of Federal Tax dollars that you improperly obtained from the government."

Harrington said he has received numerous reports from healthcare companies around Texas that received similar letters.

Rosales does not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit, Harrington said, since he does not plan to use the facility or the service connected to the website. Harrington also points out that Rosales was able to use the website to figure out how it may violate ADA law.

The federal government has not yet resolved the issue of website access for visually impaired people and what specific requirements there will be, Harrington said. In addition, Rosales seeks attorney's fees, but a lawyer representing himself is not entitled to attorney's fees, Harrington added.

Harrington said he would seek administrative and court sanctions against Rosales, if he sued any of the businesses that received website-related lawsuit letters.

According to records obtained by KXAN, Rosales sued two Texas businesses in October for alleged website ADA violations.

Bob Rapp, a San Antonio attorney, is representing one of those businesses: Concentra Operating Corporation.

"I don't see a connection between an Austin resident and an urgent care clinic in San Antonio," Rapp said.

Rapp's client received Rosales' letter roughly one month before the lawsuit was filed, Rapp said. Concentra would not settle, and Rapp has filed a motion stating Rosales lacks standing and is not the proper person to file the lawsuit in the first place, among other things.

A Cottage Industry

A KXAN investigation previously revealed Rosales was involved in suing nearly 400 Austin businesses for technical ADA parking lot violations. Those lawsuits followed a slightly different pattern, according to records obtained by KXAN.

Rosales represented a single client named John Deutsch and typically filed the lawsuits without first contacting the defendants, federal court filings show.

Harrington is already defending a handful of those businesses pro bono. That litigation became increasingly contentious earlier this year. A federal judge ultimately sanctioned Rosales in early December and assessed more than $175,000 in federal court penalties for his conduct and actions in the cases against Harrington.

Rosales accused Harrington of making anti-Semitic and racist remarks against Hispanic people. Harrington hired his own attorney and defended himself against those accusations. Federal District Judge Mark Lane ruled in Harrington's favor, finding Rosales' accusations lacked any basis in fact.

In Lane's 49-page order, he said Rosales "engaged in serious and habitual misconduct—from making false and offensive statements about Harrington in multiple court filings to knowingly submitting fabricated evidence," according to the court order.

Lane referred Rosales to the Western District of Texas' disciplinary committee for possible further sanctions.

Rosales sued KXAN News based on our previous stories. The lawsuit was later dropped.

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