The Plague of ADA Cases
Whether or not the suits are legit, most businesses choose to settle rather than go to trial.
Here are today’s highlights:
This is what’s different about TikTok: You don’t need a big following to score.
Companies are finally looking for alternatives to customer feedback surveys.
Guess what! It turns out quiet quitting can lead to quiet firing.
Functioning a bit like a ride-hailing app, a startup is trying to address maternal health deserts.
Hundreds of disability lawsuits may have been fraudulent: “A Florida man who has filed disability lawsuits against hundreds of businesses, including dozens of Bay Area wineries and restaurants, may not actually have the disability he claims, defense attorneys allege. The suits filed by Andres Gomez of Miami claim that numerous businesses’ websites fail to meet accessibility standards. One of his complaints is that images on the websites are not compatible with screen-reader software, which Gomez said he uses because of a visual impairment. But one of Gomez’s targets, a Los Angeles race car company called Fast Toys, says it has evidence that Gomez has exaggerated his visual impairment.”
“Fast Toys’ attorneys at the Karlin Law Firm commissioned an investigation of Gomez, resulting in surveillance footage of him walking on the street and entering a building in ways that contradict how Gomez has described his disability, according to Karlin attorneys.”
“Whether the investigation and video could spell legal trouble for Gomez, who is well known in small-business circles for his serial filings of disability lawsuits, is unclear. But Fast Toys owner Chris Carel said he’s more interested in using this information to help other business owners that Gomez may sue in the future. ‘We want this to serve as an alert to the public,’ said Dan Danet, one of Fast Toys’ attorneys.”
“Most defendants in these cases opt to settle out of court, since that’s often less expensive than going to trial. Martin Orlick, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in ADA compliance, told The Chronicle in April that website accessibility cases often settle for $15,000 to $45,000. Going to trial, Danet estimated, could cost a defendant more than $50,000.” READ MORE
Maybe you don’t have to annoy everyone with customer-feedback surveys: “Companies can now apply machine learning to analyze the language used in transcripts of calls and chats. They say that they can evaluate how happy or angry customers are, or why they are calling. From there, companies hope to more quickly and accurately decide on next actions to improve their service. It’s a technological solution that companies say they hope will help boost their responsiveness and get ahead of complaints that get amplified across Twitter and Instagram. The question is whether consumers are willing to continue to trade some degree of privacy for quicker assistance or potentially better service by letting an algorithm evaluate their words on calls, chats or public social-media posts.”
“For industries that track customer-experience feedback closely—including retail, travel, healthcare, finance and the auto industry—surveys have long been the standard. ... However, companies say that few customers fill them out and that survey-only data is limited in its ability to discern a consumer’s feelings or surface new problems.”
“If a company can quickly read complaints on the same topic—a glitch in the payment function on their app, perhaps—it can fix it more quickly. Sentiment analysis also allows companies to intervene almost instantly to retain someone’s business by offering an unhappy customer an in-app discount.”
“Qualtrics has a product in the works that will analyze calls in real-time. Among other features, it aims to instantly pull up information that service agents need to solve a customer’s problem to reduce time spent on hold.” READ MORE
You’re not the only one looking for an alternative to DocuSign:
TikTok is making and breaking businesses: “Unlike social media platforms before it, the TikTok algorithm has less to do with connecting users with their friends and family than it is about steering them to specific ‘sides’ of the app it believes they’ll like — putting in front of them user-generated recaps of ‘90 Day Fiancé,’ or home remodels with a minimalist aesthetic, or trending dances to hip-hop remixes. And those users hungry for food content? They’ll get a steady stream of steaming dumplings, clinking cocktail glasses, and birria tacos coming hot off a griddle.”
“The app has been leveling the playing field for small businesses that don’t have big advertising budgets. But it’s also dealing wild cards to restaurateurs who could go viral with a customer’s close-up video clip of an epic cheese pull, but hopefully not get the boom in business during an acute labor shortage.”
“On the creator side, Yesenia Chinchilla knows exactly what her audience likes: ‘Anything that’s saucy or cheesy is going to be a hit,’ says the TikTok influencer behind @denverfoodscene, one of the Mile High City’s most popular accounts.”
“Chinchilla’s content is the result of working with restaurant PR firms as well as setting out to discover under-the-radar eateries, and she loves introducing her followers to family-owned restaurants. She’s like a culinary scout, with the power to put mom-and-pop restaurants into the big leagues.”
“‘The difference with TikTok is you don’t have to have a big following for your video to go viral,’ says Steve Juliff, communications specialist for Metropolitan State University of Denver’s School of Hospitality, which sponsors the @DenverFoodScene account.” READ MORE
Why is the ad market slumping even with the economy still doing fairly well: “For much of this year, in a variety of industries and media, the growth in ad spending has been slowing or stopping. You can see very obvious examples of this in public companies like Snap, which recently laid off 20 percent of its staff and blamed an ad market that had ‘substantially slowed.’ Or you can ask someone who runs a privately held media company, off the record, how their business is going. ‘I’m glad I run a private company,’ which doesn’t have to report its results in public, one of them told me this week.” Some theories:
“If your business involves selling expensive things that have become much more expensive because of inflation — like cars — or things that are much harder to make or get because of supply chain snarls — like phones and other consumer electronics — your business is already under pressure. You’re either having a hard time selling the stuff you have or you can’t get it in stock anyway. So why spend money advertising any of it now?”
“You can blame Apple’s rewriting of digital ad tracking rules, which has made traditional digital advertising much more difficult and expensive, and which has really hurt Facebook’s and Snap’s ad businesses in particular.”
“You can also simply point to the bursting of the most recent tech bubble: The crypto moment is over, for now, so the torrent of ads for the likes of OpenSea and Crypto.com has slowed to a trickle.”
“Ditto for the slew of venture capital-backed startups that were told to grow as fast as possible and not to worry about ‘runway’—money to run their companies—because they could always raise more when they needed.” READ MORE
It turns out quiet quitting can lead to quiet firing: “Much like quiet quitting, the trendy term for reducing effort, quiet firing refers to minimizing an employee’s significance. Companies have always had subtle ways to nudge people out the door. Tactics include sidelining them by cutting responsibilities or denying promotions and raises to make someone miserable enough to leave—what the gang in legal calls a ‘constructive discharge’ and the rest of us know as managing out. The difference now is the scale. Many companies are renewing their focus on what employees put out at the same time that a lot of workers are recalibrating what they put in.”
“With more businesses expecting a recession, ‘every company has associates that have been poor performers or haven’t been as productive,’ Mr. Lesser says. ‘In the marketplace we have right now, it’s good corporate hygiene to be looking at them.’”
“Managers at all levels should form lists of employees to let go if better or harder-working talent becomes available, says Jay McDonald, an executive coach who sits on the board of several Atlanta-area companies.”
“A large-scale survey by Microsoft Corp. published this month revealed a wide gap between employees’ assessments of their own remote productivity and managers’ perceptions of how much gets done away from the office. (Some 87 percent of the rank and file say they’re just as effective at home, but 80 percent of bosses disagree.)
“Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella scolded supervisors for ‘productivity paranoia’ and assumptions that people aren’t working hard at home, but the study’s findings underscore why certain workers fear falling out of favor.” READ MORE
Amazon is raising its hourly pay rate, which serves as something of a de facto minimum wage in many areas: “The company on Wednesday said it was increasing average starting pay for its front-line warehouse employees from $18 to more than $19 an hour, with many employees earning between $16 and $26 an hour depending on their location in the U.S. Amazon said the raises represent a nearly $1 billion investment over the next year. Amazon’s last notable pay increase came about a year ago, when it raised pay for hundreds of thousands of workers to an average starting salary of $18 an hour.”
“Amazon, which added hundreds of thousands of employees throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in response to high demand, pulled back some this year on employment as e-commerce sales began to return to prepandemic levels.”
“The company shed almost 100,000 employees during the second quarter this year, though it appears to be adding hourly staff again.” READ MORE
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Poppy Seed Health connects underserved pregnant women to nurses, midwives and doulas: “The company, based in New York City, now has about two dozen employees. The app has 400 users who collectively have logged about 50,000 hours of use, according to [founder Simmone] Taitt. Ms. Taitt, 40, hopes Poppy Seed will be a solution to ‘maternal health deserts.’ According to a March of Dimes report, 2.2 million women of childbearing age live in parts of the United States that have no hospitals offering obstetric care, no birth centers and no obstetric providers. Without access to these services, women have a harder time scheduling appointments for prenatal and postpartum care, and may be more likely to experience serious complications during pregnancy and childbirth.”
“The app functions a bit like a ride-hailing app, with users matched to an available doula or midwife in real time.”
“Ms. Hickman-Kirby, who is Black, said she shares the trepidation that many Black women feel around pregnancy services: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three times more likely than white women to die during childbirth.”
“Many of these deaths — affected by factors including underlying health conditions, lack of access to quality care and biases in the health care system — are preventable. Ms. Hickman-Kirby said Poppy Seed Health filled in some of the gaps in her maternity care.”
“Poppy Seed offers a monthly $29 per month flat rate for unlimited conversations over text messaging, or $5 for a 30-minute phone chat.” READ MORE
THE 21 HATS PODCAST
‘It’s a ticking time bomb’: This week, Shawn Busse, Liz Picarazzi, and Hans Schrei debate the merits and risks of taking outside capital. Clearly, it makes sense for some businesses. But what are the right circumstances? What are the alternatives? And what do you need to understand before going to the dance? For example, what are the dynamics of the entrepreneur-investor relationship? Are the entrepreneurs hoping the investors will bestow an opportunity upon them? Or is it actually the entrepreneurs who have an opportunity to offer? And who pays for the coffee? Plus: What do you do on those days when no one seems to be following your lead and the entrepreneurial loneliness sets in?
You can subscribe to the 21 Hats Podcast wherever you get podcasts.
Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren