I hate scare mongering lawyers, but it looks like the risk that a business will be sued under the ADA based on web accessibility has dramatically increased over the last few months. Web access lawsuits may be one of the most important kinds of ADA litigation in 2016. This is not because of any change in the law, which remains largely unchanged and undeveloped. It is instead because of a change in plaintiff’s lawyers. Since this summer Carlson Lynch Sweet & Kipela, a Pennsylvania law firm with a very active ADA litigation practice, has filed at least eleven new lawsuits alleging ADA violations based on web accessibility. The defendants are primarily national retailers or restauranteurs: Footlocker, Sears, Toys-R-Us, Brooks Brothers, Pep Boys, and Hard Rock Cafe among others. Following these lawsuits Carlson Lynch has apparently sent dozens, if not hundreds of demand letters to retailers all over the country offering to settle supposed ADA web access claims. My clients in different states have received such letters, and I’m sure they are only a small sampling of the total sent. It remains to be seen how aggressively Carlson Lynch will follow up these demand letters, but they will certainly serve as an example to other law firms who represent ADA plaintiffs, so a wave of such demands and possibly lawsuits can be expected. More
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I reported in September on the decision in Phillips v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro finding that a plaintiff with celiac disease had not stated a claim for discrimination under the ADA based on P.F. Chang’s policy of charging $1.00 extra for gluten free meals. On November 23, 2015 the same court found that the plaintiff had stated a claim based on an enhanced set of allegations in her Amended Complaint. Phillips v. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Inc., 2015 WL 7429497, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 23, 2015). This is a very common pattern in ADA litigation: Once the plaintiff knows what to say, he or she is almost always willing to say it in order to get past a Motion to Dismiss. For restaurants and their owners this latest decision requires some thought and possibly the adoption of new policies concerning menu items. More
The Department of Justice has once again delayed regulations that would purport to set standards for web accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is not the first time DOJ has kicked the can a little further down the road with respect to web access regulations. The proposed regulations have been floating around since 2010 with no sign of when they might be finalized. Some lawyers fret about how the delay will affect businesses (see, Justice Department Delays Web Accessibility Regulations For At Least Three More Years, Leaving Businesses in Turmoil) while disability rights advocates continue to assert that, despite the language of the ADA, it does require accessible web sites (See, Fall 2015 Update: More Delay for DOJ Web Regulations). What’s a business to do? The answer is simple – find a web developer. More
Marianne Wilson of Chain Store Age Media reported that a new effort at ADA litigation reform, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2015”, H.R. 3765, was introduced on October 20, 2015, by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX), Doug Collins (R-GA) and David Jolly (R-FL). Like previous attempts to amend the private remedy provisions in the ADA this one requires notice and opportunity to cure as a prerequisite to a private lawsuit. I won’t speculate on the odds that it will pass in the current legislative climate, but it does provide a reason to look at real problems with private ADA enforcement, none of which are addressed by this legislation. Instead of treating plaintiffs as the problem, Congress should look at defects in the ADA and the way the courts interpret it. More
Thanks blog is thanks to Ken Besserman, General Counsel of the Texas Restaurant Association, who sent me this link to an article about an announced Department of Justice investigation of restaurants in Houston, Texas. Twenty-five popular restaurants will be investigated for ADA violations over the next several months.
This investigation is worthy of note for several reasons. First, none of the restaurants is the subject of any specific complaint. Instead the investigation was timed to coincide with a symposium of civil rights advocacy groups. This is a good reminder for all businesses that the power of the Department of Justice to investigate possible ADA violations does not require that DOJ wait for a specific complaint. A business thinking that it won’t be targeted because it seems to have no disabled customers needs to know that DOJ doesn’t need a disabled complaining party in order to enforce the ADA. More