Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that Brick and Mortar businesses allow “full and equal enjoyment” of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations that the businesses provide uniformly to everyone.
Historically, ADA litigations have involved disputes over whether a place of public accommodation has complied with its legal obligations to build accessible bathroom facilities or wheelchair ramps for instance. Recently, however, a new and more vexing category of Title III litigation has emerged. In these suits, persons with disabilities can report the website of a public accommodation business for lacking the required accessibility features under the ADA.
An Explosion of Title III Web Accessibility Lawsuits in 2018
An independent study by the law firm Seyfarth Shaw found recently that in 2018 there were 2,250 Title III web accessibility lawsuits filed in federal courts. That was nearly triple the number of such suits filed the year before. What drove this massive increase? There are four principal factors at play:
- Rulings from federal courts holding Title III applies to the websites of public accommodation businesses
- The sheer number of websites that exist for these types of businesses
- A lack of regulatory guidance for accessibility features on websites
- The fact that the ADA allows attorneys to recover their fees and litigation costs if they prevail in these actions
In short, 2018 saw a perfect storm of factors favorable to the filing of lawsuits. 2019 promises to be equally active.
Uncertainty Over Compliance Causes Concern
A recent ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals illustrates the difficulty businesses face in achieving ADA compliance.
The case, Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, Inc., involved a blind Domino’s patron who sued the pizza chain to force it to make its website compatible with his screen reading software. The company defended the suit by arguing that Title III did not apply to its website, and alternatively that the company had been denied due process of law because the Department of Justice has failed to issue regulations defining how to bring the website into compliance.
The Ninth Circuit rejected both of these arguments, holding that Title III does apply to the websites of public accommodation businesses, and that Domino’s did not have a due process right to have the DOJ identify specific regulations.
Making a website accessible for all manner of disabilities is just one of the many areas of uncertainty that rulings like Robles have caused. Another issue lurking in the background is whether Title I of the ADA, which bars workplace disability discrimination, will also impose website accessibility obligations on employers.
Navigating The Uncertainty
While uncertainty over how to make websites ADA compliant persists, public accommodation businesses should take steps to educate themselves about their potential exposure to website accessibility lawsuits.
To learn more about making your business’s website accessible for persons with disabilities, contact MAB today.