eBay sued for “discriminatory” registration system

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Melissa J. Earll

Melissa J. Earll (right), with lawyers Michael Aschenbrener (left) and Jay Edelson (middle) of Edelson McGuire, LLC

A deaf woman is suing eBay, saying that the company’s telephone-based seller verification system breaches laws protecting disabled people from discrimination.

Melissa Earll from Nevada, Missouri says that eBay’s identification system breaches federal and California state laws. The system places automated calls to new sellers, requiring them to listen to a PIN given verbally on the telephone, and then enter that into the site, to prove that the phone number they’ve provided is correct. Ms Earll cannot hear the number, and so cannot complete the verification.

Ms Earll has repeatedly asked the company to provide her with another method of verifying her identity, but they have failed to do so. Her attorney says that “at one point, eBay even suggested that she just find someone who can hear normally to answer her phone for her.” She has now filed suit “on behalf of all deaf or hard of hearing persons who have been prevented from registering as sellers with eBay because of the company’s discriminatory telephone registration system”.

Via plaintiff’s press release.

68 Responses

  1. Ebay could care less.This is a company that only cares about itself.Ebay dont care about the sellers, or the buyers.One day ebay will run all off.

  2. I am confused: my Uncle has had profound hearing loss(without his aids he hears Zip) but he has a telephone with a keyboard. Why is she suing? Because everyone can these days? If she TRULY wanted to join ebay their legal address is on the Net. Type up a simple letter. Which means her lawyers will lose their Andy W 15 minutes of fame.

    Bunch of baloney.

  3. I find it disgusting the way these people make money by suing companies. We had someone try to do the same to us. The shop has a very small lip to get through the door. The customer way in a wheelchair. We offered to lift her inside but she refused – saying if she couldn’t get in under her own steam she wasn’t coming in. The next we know we get a letter from her solicitor threatening legal action!
    Gives disabled people a bad name.

  4. Exchecquer: You must not be a new eBay seller. In the States, to become a new seller, you must register on-line and then wait on an automated phone call. The phone call gives instructions and a PIN number that expires in so many minutes. You must use the instructions and PIN to complete the registration.

    It is not just a matter of writing. Besides, have you ever tried to write eBay at their “legal address”? Puh-lease.

    In the States it is a legal requirement that a reasonable accommodation be made in the event of a disability that prevents use of your premises or system. Had eBay simply responded with an e-mail with the instructions and PIN – this would not be a news story. Instead, like in all they do, they ignored a seller/customer/problem. This time it came back to bite them in the butt.

    I am sure for eBay it is all a matter of numbers: They know they can ignore the rabble of buyers and sellers 99.9% of them time with no consequences at all. They must figure the .01% of the time it does cost them, it is actually a savings over what it would cost them to do it right all the time.

  5. usual disabled big chip on shoulder

    its not the worlds fault you have been dealt a bad hand

  6. Jay Edelson is gonna kick some butt, methinks! Good for you Ms Earll! Ebay doesn’t care about you or anyone these days… the good ship is sinking… FAST!

  7. northumbrian – you just made the case for this plaintiff stronger. She is merely trying to make a better life for herself using eBay to generate income, as you have been doing since Sep 24, 1998. Luckily for you there was no requirement to be a hearing person to register to sell at that time, and as you state eBay has “saved” your “life and business” by giving you a chance to make an income.

    Now we have technology to get around this problem I’m sure and eBay is just too disinterested to employ it. Maybe now they will listen. She is not asking for special treatment; she just wants to be given the same chance to be a useful productive member of society as the rest of us are, as you have enjoyed yourself these years. If eBay suddenly revoked your registration and you had to register again, you would be out in the cold as this woman is.

    Shame on eBay.

  8. If eBay suddenly revoked our registration and we had to register again.
    we would grab any tom ,dick, or harry ,and tell them to answer the phone and enter the pin number,
    amazing this lady can organize and file a court case, yet its difficult or impossible to find someone to answer a telephone and enter a pin

  9. Right on! it bad enough having to do it when you keep switch computers without all those cookies stuffed into it.

  10. Look, the fact of the matter is eBay is breaking the law.

    I notice that the posters critising the plaintiff are quick to jump on those who they say breech eBay’s rules or terms and conditions.

    It doesn’t matter that the woman hasn’t asked someone to listen to the code for her. The law is the law, and eBay isn’t above it.

    I hope she wins

  11. Look, the fact of the matter is eBay is breaking the law.

    …That’s a fact is it, oh ok…Judge and jury, nice!

  12. I am amazed at the people willing to jump on a person who, through no fault of her own, is disabled and can not use the process eBay has set up for registration. There has to be 5 different ways eBay could have enabled her to register and been on the moral side of the equation and the legal side of the equation. They did not. And some of you want to blame the deaf woman?

    Do you really want to be on eBay’s side on this one? Really?

    I can see the Headline now: “eBay refuses to accommodate Deaf Person; too much trouble to e-mail a PIN”

  13. If eBay allow no other method of verification then the policy is discriminatory. Clearly.

    This piece does not read as “blog gossip”, rather it is a serious report on an ongoing court case.

    Your comment of “PC gone potty!” is indicative of your opinion regarding the plaintiff and her disability.

    Regardless of her motives, and whether she is taking advantage of eBay staff or not – eBay must abide by the law. It’s not my opinion – it’s fact.

  14. maybe she should head over to eBid.net where she will receive a warm and welcome feeling from real people and not automated robots in a server who only print out what is programmed in their system.

  15. I have to side with Ebay on this one. I know there are special phones that work with a keyboard and I believe they are even furnished free (though I may be wrong on that part). You need to be able to answer a phone on Ebay – always did. As a seller if a buyer can’t reach you and reports you then Ebay will call and if they can’t contact you then your account will be suspended. Its been like that from the beginning. Needing to be able to answer a phone is not a new thing on Ebay. Being profoundly deaf is no excuse here since there are devices that allow a deaf person to answer a phone.

  16. After reading through the responses …. has anyone tried to register, now, to see if the process is as described in the suit?

    This is obviously a U.S. matter. eBay probably can do whatever it wants in Europe.

    Unfortunately it’s also equally obvious that many, haven’t read the applicable laws.

    ADA text:

    The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008

    “(1) DISABILITY.—The term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual—
    “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual”

    The law regards what an INDIVIDUAL can or cannot do on their own.

    ADA text:

    “(E)(i) The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as—”

    “(II) use of assistive technology;”

    Very Very Over Simplified: Leaving out the Civil case side, she does have a reasonable basis to file a Federal ADA (American’s with Disabilities Act) / U.S. EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) complaint.

    HOWEVER ‘here’s the thing”, there are three large parts (more actually, but too long to post here) to a successful ADA FILING.

    The third, which is the easiest part, is to show some form of disability ‘problem’. The second is to show the individual is disabled as per the ADA. The first, the hardest part, is to show the ‘problem’ falls under the jurisdiction of the ADA.

    Melissa Earll appears to have the third part, has the second part, but may or may not have have the first part.

    And it is all or nothing. Failure of any qualifier means the complaint is dropped.


    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

    The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008

    “physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society”

  17. I for one would be happy to see ebay squirm over this (though that seems unlikely because they appear unfazed by lawsuits and swat them like flies).

    This is because they hold sellers to account right down to the finest minutae with DSRs etc. Ebay come across as extremely pedantic and selling on their platform is painful for anyone that wants to retain their powerseller/top rated seller status and the discounts it affords.

    Ebay must be thinking, “For goodness sake! Can’t she just get a friend to put the pin in for her??!”

    Yeah – she may well be being difficult. Good! I hope this gives ebay a taste of their own medicine – being on the receiving end of someone’s litigous pedantry! 😆

  18. The actual complaint really spells it out:
    “eBay steadfastly refuses to offer Plaintiff an alternative means to verify her identity, despite her repeated requests.”
    “eBay has gone out of its way to design a system that deaf and hard of hearing persons cannot use.”
    “by creating a seller registration system that solely utilizes sound, eBay has erected a barrier to its website that screens out deaf and hard of hearing persons.”
    “What makes eBay’s discriminatory conduct all the more galling is that solutions to this problem are easy and inexpensive to implement solutions being used by thousands of companies online. eBay simply needs to implement a seller registration system that utilizes PINs presented visually and aurally.”
    “One example of visual verification is the CAPTCHA method used by countless other websites. This is the method by which website users are required to visually decipher obscured letters and numbers. CAPTCHA is an acronym for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.” The purpose of a CAPTCHA is to verify that a human is operating the website and not another computer.”

    Again I say, shame on you eBay.

  19. captcha wouldn’t apply here, there is no question she is a human, the question is regarding her identity.

    This shows little experience within her legal team to state captcha as a possible solution to this issue.

    I’m still sure that eBay have a solution for deaf/blind people etc and that she has been unlucky with her experience of CS.

  20. I’m siding against eBay on this one.

    One solution:

    1) Ring phone at random time within the next 5 minutes.
    2) Ask potential seller to click a button within 10 seconds of the phone starting to ring.
    3) You get three tries.

    Phone number is verified and she doesn’t need to listen to anything.

    Another (and much more obvious) solution is to display the pin on the eBay and instruct the seller to just input that pin via the phone. You don’t need to listen to anything, just punch in the numbers when you pick up. I can’t believe anyone could defend eBay when the solution is THAT simple.

  21. I’m assuming a deaf woman is not going to own a phone whose only indication a call is incoming is aural. Of the last three phones I have owned 2 of them give a visual indication they are ringing. Because of this and the fact that my phone is almost always within my visual field, I leave the ringer off.

  22. eBay at its classic best:

    …. On June 24, 2008, Plaintiff received a seemingly automated response to her email from Randy S. at eBay Customer Support. The response did not in any way relate to the voice verification process or her request to have the block on her account removed. The response referred to a “page not responding error.” ….

  23. Surely the nuts and bolts of this stem from an endemic arrogance that epitomises eBay in a number of areas.

    In short a management failure.

  24. Done some painting today, I couldn’t get the damn lid off the tin! i called Dulux and they told me to ask someone else to do it for me, I did and the room looks great now.

    Perhaps I should have dug my heels in and insisted that they come up with some new kind of paint tin to solve the problem for people like me. 😉

  25. What a lovely attitude some people have towards others.

    We sold a bath to a deaf chap a couple of months back, when it came to delivery the office had to text the guy to let him know that the lorry had left and text him again when the driver was 10 minutes away, no doubt the guy had family and friends who could have taken the call for him, but perhaps though he actually prefers to be independent and not rely on others.

  26. I think that point has become somewhat lost here. Is ebay breaking the law? That’s really what it’s all about. The court shall decide.

  27. The person is deaf and has a phone, someone must operate the phone on her behalf ?, if so they can verify it.

    It would be different if she did not have a phone, if this was the case then ebay should have some kind of alternative postal based system for registered disabled people

  28. of course the disabled must be considered and helped, though business needs to be profitable and viable, at some point what is sensible and do able must come into the equation,
    or by the time you complie with the million regulations and laws, you may be just as disabled as the physical, but in a financial way ,if business suffers , who then would support the disabled with tax , employment and charity donations

  29. I think what’s at play here is, most on this forum are from the UK – but this plaintiff is American (as I am too).

    Some say we are very “sue happy” here in the US and there are a lot of people unhappy over it.

    Is it just me or are Americans more quick to sue if our rights have been violated? When you think about it, living in the US today, we are living among descendants of the rebels who said “screw the King I’m outta here, let’s move to the new world.” Yes it was over 500 years ago but I wonder if that’s what makes Americans more indignant than Brits.

    Do you have similar laws in the UK to protect the disabled?

  30. PS If anyone thinks I am trying to bait them into an argument let me stress, I am not. I am truly sincere in asking what are the perceptions of freedom and liberty by Brits compared to Americans.

    In my search I came across a fascinating article by “The Daily Bell”. No idea who they are but this article is an eye-opener:


    I didn’t know there was so much turmoil in so many areas happening “across the pond.” Guns, healthcare, etc.

    Sorry I went off topic I am just in a curious mood.

  31. Anyone who thinks they live in a “free country” is sadly mistaken. The fact is you cannot say what you want, you cannot do what you want regardless of who or where you are.

    I (as a Brit) often think of them (Americans) as being very quick to say “I know my rights” or to take legal action over just “getting on with it”

    Society needs rules, regulations and control simply because the world is full of idiots, myself included at times. Without these controls being imposed on us, we would quickly become a 3rd world nation…IMO

  32. HI I cannot open an ebay account because I only have a mobile phone number They will only make calls to landline numbers Is this legal?? I live in England and am a registered voter at my home address which is the same address as my hnbank account Jo



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