(CN) – Netflix will not have to face claims that it discriminated against deaf subscribers by not providing captions of most titles available for streaming, forcing deaf users to pay for the more expensive DVD-by-mail service, a federal judge ruled.
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Donald Cullen, who is deaf, filed a federal class action against Netflix, which offers subtitles with only a small portion of its offerings.
Though the site has been adding more titles with closed captions, Culen says the roll-out has taken an unreasonable amount of time.
One executive allegedly promised in February 2011 that Netflix planned to have closed captioning for 80 percent of its streaming content by the end of that year.
Cullen says he and other deaf customers relied on such statements to keep their DVD rental plans, which cost up to $11.99 a month.
Failure to timely caption the streaming movies imposed a “deaf tax” on them, according to Cullen’s second amended complaint.
U.S. District Judge Edward Davila dismissed the suit from San Jose, Calif., after finding that Cullen failed to show an intentional violation of state disability discrimination laws.
“Cullen alleges that Netflix did not caption a meaningful amount of its streaming library at the rate consumers expected, and its streaming library is not accessible to hearing-impaired individuals because only a small portion of it is subtitled,” Davila wrote. “These allegations describe a policy with a disparate impact on hearing-impaired individuals, but do not describe willful, affirmative misconduct. Furthermore, the [amended complaint] also includes allegations demonstrating Netflix’s efforts to improve access for hearing-impaired customers that offset an inference of intentional discrimination.
Netflix is still adding closed captioning to its streaming collection, according to the ruling, which grants Cullen leave to amend his claims.