The ADA played a typically minor role in the recent election. Democrats made it clear they were for the disabled but did not propose specific new programs. Republicans barely mentioned the disabled except for a brief controversy involving Trump mocking a disabled reporter. With disability rights playing such a minor role in Republican politics one might think that Trump’s election means no change, but in fact a Trump presidency may lead to a significant narrowing of the ADA’s application and reduced federal enforcement action. More
ADA Class Actions
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA Class Actions, ADA Gig Economy, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, Internet Accessibility Tags: Gig Economy, Kardashian, Lyft, National Federation of the Blind, uber
Uber and Lyft have made news for the last couple of years because of allegations that their drivers do not provide appropriate service to disabled individuals.(1) Settlement of a national class action against Uber is awaiting court approval in the Northern District of California,(2) but as recently as October 13 another lawsuit was filed claiming that Uber drivers did not comply with the ADA.(3) Legal arguments about the application of the ADA to app based services using independent contractors are fascinating, but these lawsuits have a much broader importance in the modern gig economy, for increasing numbers of individuals have dropped or been forced out of traditional employment positions and are now on their own, dealing directly with the public and making decisions that may have ADA and fair housing implications.(4)
One of the persistent myths about the ADA is that it only applies to businesses of a certain size, and many indivduals operating solo businesses assume that they are just too small for the ADA to apply to them. The confusion comes because Title I of the ADA, concerning employment, is limited to businesses with more than 15 employees. Title III of the ADA, which governs the interactions of a business with the public, has no such limitation. The homeless man who washes your windshield at a stop light and hopes for a few bucks as a tip is just as much a “public accommodation” subject to Title III of the ADA as a Walmart or a Holiday Inn hotel.(5) In a gig economy the freedom that comes with working for yourself is accompanied by a legal obligation to those with disabilities that may be hard to understand. Here are just a few examples:
- Internet sellers have varying degrees of control over the websites they use to display their goods and receive payment, and may not understand that the very act of selling makes them public accommodations with some obligation to sell through accessible websites. You don’t have to be a Kardashian to be sued under the ADA for having an inaccessible website.(6)
- Ride share drivers are public accommodations just like the companies they contract with. The first target of a lawsuit will usually be Uber or Lyft or a similar organization for the very good reason they are bigger and have more money, but individual drivers can be targets as well.
- Boutique bakers, brewers and pastry chefs operating out of a tiny storefront or old house may discover the ADA requires that their premises be accessible.
- Freelance yoga instructors may need to consider what they will do when a student with physical or intellectual impairments wants to join their class in the park.
The ADA and the ADAAG and 2010 Standards make a nod toward small businesses, and the hypothetical, long awaited DOJ regulations concerning internet accessibility may as well, but the ADA and existing regulations were not written with the gig economy or the possibility of internet businesses in mind. Unless and until new regulations are issued, which is years away at best, folks who have embarked on independent careers working for themselves should carefully consider what their ADA obligations might be.(7)
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA Class Actions, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Point of Sale, ADA Web Access, Internet, Internet Accessibility, Retail Tags: ADA arbitration, ADA Class Action, Container Store, National Federation of the Blind, Point of Sale, POS terminal
This week’s decision in Nat’l Fed’n of the Blind v. Container Store, Inc., 2016 WL 4027711 (D. Mass. July 27, 2016) is a call to action for every business that uses a click to accept type license or other agreements. Such agreements may not be enforceable in an ADA context unless special care is taken.
The case involved the Container Store’s loyalty program, which provides various perks and rewards. Customers could sign up when making a purchase at a store or online. In either case the process included clicking an “I Accept” button linked to the usual boilerplate terms and conditions, which included an agreement to arbitrate. The problem? Container Stores use a touchscreen Point of Sale device that is not accessible to the blind because it has no tactile controls. I blogged about the issue here, and the problem hasn’t gone away. The argument is straightforward. Blind customers cannot use the devices without giving personal information about their credit card information and email address to the clerk, while sighted customers can preserve their privacy on these matters. More
This last week a federal district court in Ohio kicked out most of an ADA plaintiff’s claims that were based on the defendant’s lack of an ADA policy. Mark Timoneri v. Speedway, LLC, 2016 WL 2756868 (N.D. Ohio May 12, 2016). Just a few weeks earlier the federal district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania confirmed an earlier magistrate judge’s recommendation to confirm a class under the same facts. Heinzl v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., 2016 WL 1761963 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 29, 2016) adopting the recommendation in Heinzl v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores, Inc, 2016 WL 2347367 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 27, 2016). The cases illustrate how different judges can reach very different results on similar facts as well as a fundamental disagreement on whether Title III of the ADA requires ADA compliance policies. More
My clients often ask about whether doing a survey to determine ADA or FHA compliance will simply set them up for damages based on a “knowing” violation of the disabilties laws. My advice is almost always no, because the ADA and FHA are no-fault statutes when it comes to physical accessibility. Ignorance is no defense. A recent case from a district court in Pennsylvania looks at the same problem in a different way: Can ADA or FHA surveys be protected from disclosure as attorney work product or even privileged documents. Heinzl v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., 2015 WL 6604015, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 29, 2015). I think it is worth asking another question — do you want these documents to be privileged? More