We have been blogging for more than five years about the rising litigation threat over website accessibility, and the surrounding confusion about what type of compliance, if any, is required. In our initial blog post on this topic in January 2016, we stated that the question as to whether a business’s website and mobile app needed to be accessible with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) had no definitive answer at that time because (i) although Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability with regard to their participation and equal enjoyment in places of public accommodation, the statute did not explicitly define whether a place of public accommodation must be a physical place or facility; (ii) there were no regulations from the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) (the federal agency that enforces Title III of the ADA) regarding website accessibility and without applicable regulations, it was unclear how a court would address a lawsuit over website accessibility; and (iii) adding to this uncertainty, the DOJ had emphasized that, despite the lack of regulations, businesses should make websites accessible to the disabled, and relied on a set of guidelines called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”).
Five years later, this question still has no definitive answer. And, the DOJ still has yet to promulgate regulations regarding businesses’ obligations to make websites accessible to individuals with visual and hearing impairments. In April, however, an extremely positive development occurred for businesses when, in the matter of Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Florida, Georgia, and Alabama) held that websites are NOT places of public accommodation and thus are NOT covered by Title III of the ADA.
Although many industries were hit hard in 2020, no industry suffered as much as the hospitality industry. In one bit of good news however, federal courts have begun to push back on lawsuits brought by serial plaintiffs under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) during the last several months based on those plaintiffs’ lack of standing. This is a much needed development for hotel owners and operators, who hope that this trend will continue into 2021 and beyond.
In order to assert a claim under Title III of the ADA, a plaintiff must establish that she has standing to assert a claim under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. To establish standing, a plaintiff must establish that she has sustained a direct injury as the result of an alleged wrongdoing, and that the injury is concrete and particularized, not hypothetical or speculative. Continue reading
Our retail and hospitality clients often ask whether the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires their websites to be accessible for individuals with disabilities. Unfortunately, as we have previously explained, there are numerous reasons why there is no clear answer to this question:
- While Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability with regard to their participation and equal enjoyment in places of public accommodation, the statute does not explicitly define whether a place of public accommodation must be a physical place or facility;
- These types of issues historically have arisen in brick-and-mortar buildings such as lack of accessible parking stalls, insufficient ramps, and inaccessible bathrooms;
- No regulations on the issue of website accessibility currently exist, and the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has pushed back the date on which it is supposed to issue such regulations until 2018 at the earliest;
- The DOJ has emphasized that businesses should make websites accessible to disabled individuals by relying on a set of private industry standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium known as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”);
- Very few cases have reached a resolution on the merits.
As a result, the state of the law regarding the applicability of the ADA to company websites has been in flux the last several years. However, we now are starting to see some guidance from the courts, although there have been contrasting decisions that have not exactly clarified matters.