Roy Payan, et al v. Los Angeles Community College District, et al

FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW signed by Judge Stephen V. Wilson. (See document for details) (mrgo)

Central District of California, cacd-2:2017-cv-01697

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1 Page ID #:6690 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 ROY PAYAN, PORTIA MASON, THE Case No.: 2:17-cv-01697-SVW-SK NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE 12 BLIND, INC., and THE NATIONAL FINDINGS OF FACT AND 13 FEDERATION OF THE BLIND OF CONCLUSIONS OF LAW CALIFORNIA, INC., 14 15 Plaintiffs, vs. 16 17 LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT, 18 19 Defendant. 20 21 I. Introduction 22 On May 14, 2019, the Court held a bench trial in this action as to the issue of whether 23 Defendant Los Angeles Community College District ("LACCD") was liable under Title II of the 24 Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq. (the "ADA" or "Title II"), and 25 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("Section 504"). In advance of trial, 26 Plaintiffs Roy Payan and Portia Mason submitted declarations containing their witnesses' direct 27 testimony, as required by the Court's Standing Order for non-jury trials, while LACCD 28 submitted deficient declarations setting forth only the topics about which its witnesses intended 1 1 Page ID #:6691 1 to testify at trial. The parties presented their witnesses at trial, at which time the Court engaged in 2 its own questioning of each witnesses and allowed subsequent cross-examination and re-direct 3 questioning by the parties. Having carefully reviewed and considered the evidence presented at 4 trial, the Court issues the following findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal 5 Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a). 6 II. Findings of Fact 7 For all findings of fact set forth below, in making any credibility determinations 8 regarding witness testimony, the Court has considered, among other things, the manner in which 9 the witnesses testified, their interest in the outcome of the case, and the reasonableness of their 10 testimony in light of all of the evidence. The Court has also considered the relevant factors in 11 Section 1.14 of the Manual of Model Civil Jury Instructions for the District Courts of the Ninth 12 Circuit (2017 Edition), located at http://www3.ce9.uscourts.gov/jury- 13 instructions/sites/default/files/WPD/Civil_Instructions_2018_9_0.pdf. 14 A. Etudes 15 In the Spring 2016 semester at Los Angeles City College ("LACC"), Plaintiff Payan 16 enrolled in Introduction to Psychology I taught by Professor Yaneli Sedghi. Professor Sedghi 17 utilized the Etudes program in her course as a means to provide students with assignments. As 18 part of the participation in the course, Professor Sedghi also divided students into study groups of 19 between 4-5 students and required each group to complete a project during the semester. For the 20 project, Professor Sedghi instructed each group to describe a concept in the psychology textbook 21 and create a video of the group acting out or recreating the psychology concept. Professor Sedghi 22 would view all videos submitted by the study groups herself, without showing the videos to the 23 class as a whole. 24 The group project necessitated that the group members maintain communication with 25 each other outside of class sessions. To facilitate these discussions, Professor Sedghi required 26 each group to communicate with each other on discussion boards embedded in the Etudes 27 program. In these discussion boards, a group member would be able to post a question or 28 comment about his or her group project or the subject of the project. Other group members 2 1 Page ID #:6692 1 would be able to comment in response to the post, and each group member's post or comment 2 would be visible by the other group members. However, students in other study groups would 3 not be able to see the posts or comments made by students outside of their study groups. In other 4 words, the discussion boards were limited to each separate study group, and the discussion 5 boards did not allow for class-wide discussions about the course materials. Professor Sedghi was 6 able to view the discussions occurring in each group's discussion board and, during class 7 sessions, Professor Sedghi provided feedback to each group to guide the group to the correct 8 topic of discussion. However, Professor Sedghi did not comprehensively explain to the class the 9 substantive discussions that had occurred on each group's Etudes discussion board. 10 One limited exception to the use of the Etudes discussion boards only for study groups is 11 the first assignment of the course that Professor Sedghi assigned during the first week of class. In 12 this first assignment, Professor Sedghi required each student in the class to post on a class-wide 13 discussion board on Etudes, the subject of which Professor Sedghi described as the students 14 "getting to know each other" and "explaining behavior." The purpose of the assignment was to 15 allow all students to read each other's responses to learn about each other at the beginning of the 16 semester-long class. Then, in the class sessions held during the first week of the course, 17 Professor Sedghi engaged in a similar class exercise designed to enable the students to become 18 familiar with each other. 19 When Professor Sedghi assigned this first assignment to post on a class-wide discussion 20 board on Etudes, Payan spoke with Professor Sedghi and informed her that Payan was unable to 21 use the Etudes program for this purpose. Professor Sedghi accommodated Payan's difficulty 22 accessing the class-wide discussion board by allowing Payan to email his response to the prompt 23 directly to Professor Sedghi. By emailing his response to Professor Sedghi directly, Payan was 24 unable to read the other students' responses and was unable to have the other students read his 25 response. 26 As the semester progressed, Payan raised his inability to access the Etudes discussion 27 board for his study group with Professor Sedghi. Professor Sedghi agreed to go to the Office of 28 Student Services ("OSS") with Payan to seek accommodations for Payan's accessibility 3 1 Page ID #:6693 1 problems. At OSS, Payan and Professor Sedghi met with Ryan Kushner. During the meeting, 2 Payan demonstrated his difficulties with Etudes, and Kushner concluded that the Etudes program 3 was too difficult for Payan to use effectively. Professor Sedghi testified that she and Kushner 4 agreed to accommodate Payan's lack of access to Etudes by establishing a group email thread 5 between Payan and his study group members, with Professor Sedghi copied on all emails, to 6 allow Payan to communicate with his group members outside of the Etudes program. Kushner 7 testified that, although he did not recall specifically discussing any discussion boards on Etudes 8 with Professor Sedghi, he did recall a "private integrated mail system" like email embedded in 9 the Etudes program, which was used for assignments generally. Kushner confirmed that he and 10 Professor Sedghi provided accommodations for Payan regarding this Etudes mail system by 11 allowing Payan to utilize his private email address for the necessary communications. 12 The Court finds the testimony of Professor Sedghi regarding Payan's accommodation to 13 be credible and supported by the testimony of both Payan and Kushner. Any statements by Payan 14 about his inability to communicate with his group members are contradicted by Professor 15 Sedghi's testimony and Kushner's recollection of the accommodations OSS provided for Payan 16 in the psychology course. 17 B. In-Class Materials 18 1. Plaintiff Payan 19 Payan testified that, in Professor Sedghi's psychology course, students were often given 20 hard-copy handouts at the beginning of class sessions, which were to be used to facilitate class 21 discussions. Professor Sedghi testified that she did not recall giving handouts to students before 22 class as part of the psychology course in which Payan enrolled. The Court finds Payan's 23 testimony to be more credible in this regard, particularly because Professor Sedghi testified that 24 she may have handed out her class syllabus to students at the beginning of the course in paper 25 format. See Pls.' Ex. 15. 26 Payan also testified that he had difficulty accessing the PowerPoint presentations taught 27 by Professor Sedghi in the psychology course. Payan stated that Professor Sedghi attempted to 28 send Payan notes about the PowerPoint slides used in the class session later the same day or the 4 1 Page ID #:6694 1 following morning. However, there is little evidence as to whether the PowerPoint notes 2 Professor Sedghi sent to Payan were in a format accessible to Payan. Professor Sedghi confirmed 3 that she used PowerPoint slides for all of her lectures, but averred that she always described all 4 images on screen through basic and descriptive words and consistently verbalized all text 5 appearing on each slide so that Payan or other sight-impaired students would be able to 6 comprehend the material contained on the slide. Professor Sedghi also stated that she sometimes 7 asked sighted students to assist with descriptions of images or other material contained on 8 PowerPoint slides for the benefit of blind students, and Professor Sedghi worked with Payan 9 specifically to explain the content of her PowerPoint presentations during class where possible. 10 2. Plaintiff Mason 11 In the Spring 2016 semester at LACC, Plaintiff Portia Mason enrolled in an Introduction 12 to Psychology course taught by Dr. April Pavlik and an Abnormal Psychology course taught by 13 Blythe Daniel. The Court will outline the facts adduced at trial for each course separately. 14 i. Dr. Pavlik 15 Mason testified that, in Dr. Pavlik's course, Dr. Pavlik provided hard-copy handouts to 16 students during class on approximately 5 occasions. Dr. Pavlik created these handouts herself 17 and used the handouts as part of the curriculum and to facilitate in-class discussions, or 18 alternatively the handouts were provided as an in-class assignment or quiz. However, Mason 19 only recalls the subject of one such handout, which was a personality test. See Pls.' Ex. 43. 20 Mason could not complete the personality test herself and had to ask for assistance from a 21 sighted student, who read each question aloud to Mason and recorded Mason's answers. Mason 22 stated that Dr. Pavlik did not provide any accommodations for Mason's inability to access any 23 in-class handouts, and Mason never received those handouts after class in an accessible format. 24 Dr. Pavlik testified at deposition that she did not recall whether she gave paper handouts to 25 students in Mason's psychology course in Spring 2016. The Court finds Mason's testimony more 26 credible in this regard and finds that Dr. Pavlik did provide students with at least one paper 27 handout in class as part of the Introduction to Psychology course. 28 5 1 Page ID #:6695 1 Mason recalled one instance where Dr. Pavlik issued a quiz to students that required 2 students to draw a neuron. Mason took this quiz to OSS's testing center for assistance, which 3 was an accommodation provided to her via her accommodations form. While attempting to 4 complete the quiz at OSS's testing center, Mason informed the exam proctor that she was unable 5 to draw a neuron as required for the quiz. Mason stated that the proctor told Mason to leave the 6 question blank and that the proctor would write a note to Dr. Pavlik explaining Mason's inability 7 to complete that portion of the quiz. After completing the quiz, Mason received her graded quiz 8 back from Dr. Pavlik, which contained handwritten grades and comments from Dr. Pavlik 9 providing feedback on Mason's performance. See Pls.' Ex. 42. Because Dr. Pavlik's comments 10 were handwritten and not accessible via JAWS, Mason was unable to read any of Dr. Pavlik's 11 feedback on her quiz. 12 Mason testified that Dr. Pavlik utilized PowerPoints throughout the semester as part of 13 her in-class lectures and for in-class discussions. Mason averred that Dr. Pavlik did not describe