A federal judge on Friday granted Epic Systems Corp.'s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed early last year, which alleged that blind hospital employees can't use the company's software.
The National Federation of the Blind sued Epic in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, arguing that the company violated the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, a law that's designed to protect employees from discrimination. The advocacy group argued that by selling and licensing electronic health records software that's inaccessible to blind employees, Epic interfered with those employees' ability to work in the healthcare industry.
But a federal judge in Massachusetts said selling software that's inaccessible to blind users isn't enough to assign a company liability for how its customers—in this case, healthcare organizations—treat 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," Rya Zobel, senior U.S. district judge, wrote in the decision. "Such extreme business regulation is not borne out by the statute."
The National Federation of the Blind declined a request for comment.
Epic in a statement on Monday said it "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," the company said. Epic has previously said that it designs, develops and tests its software using technical standards issued by the World Wide Web Consortium, called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
The National Federation of the Blind's complaint highlighted the case of a part-time hospital dispatcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who said he couldn't perform his job duties after the provider went live on an Epic EHR in 2015. The employee was ultimately placed on a paid leave of absence because of the difficulties, the lawsuit alleged.
The dispatcher, Manuel Morse, had previously sued the hospital with the support of the National Federation of the Blind in 2017, and the parties settled in 2018 after Brigham and Women's adapted the EHR to work with Job Access with Speech, a screen-access software program that converts text into synthesized speech or Braille displays. But Brigham and Women's performed an Epic upgrade in late 2018 that allegedly caused these adjustments to not function.
Although Brigham and Women's has since adapted the upgraded Epic software, the National Federation of the Blind argued the EHR was still not "fully accessible" for blind employees.
"Mr. Morse is unable to complete certain elements of his fast-paced job with the same speed as he was before BWH began using Epic's software," the complaint read.
Epic is one of the biggest brands in the EHR space, accounting for 28% of the EHR market among acute-care hospitals in the U.S., according to a report KLAS Research released in April. Epic's top rival, Cerner Corp., has 26% of the market.