A number of states have passed laws intended to stop abusive ADA lawsuits, including most recently Florida and Texas.* As we’ve reported several times recently some individual federal judges are taking their own steps to stem serial litigation without diminishing the rights of the disabled. All these efforts attack the problem at the wrong end. Serial ADA lawsuits are a just a symptom of a deeper problem – a lack of ADA education and regulatory enforcement. More
On October 2, 2017 the Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s petition for certiorari in McGee v. Coca Cola Refreshments U.S.A., Inc., letting stand the decision by the 5th Circuit holding that Coca Cola vending machine was not a “place of public accommodation” covered by Title III of the ADA.* Last month a District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania applied the same reasoning to a DVD rental kiosk. Nguyen v. New Release DVD, LLC, CV 16-6296, 2017 WL 4864995 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 27, 2017). Neither McGee nor Nguyen mention an earlier case, Jancik v. Redbox Automated Retail, LLC, 2014 WL 1920751 (C.D. Cal. May 14, 2014) that also attacked automated machines allowing DVD rentals. Interestingly enough, in Jancik v Redbox the defendants conceded that their DVD rental kiosks were places of public accommodation subject to Title III of the ADA. It apparently never occurred to them that the difference between a public accommodation and a mere “service” was whether the goods were delivered by a machine instead of a human. Were they wrong? These cases illustrate a real problem with the way “public accommodation” is defined in Title III. More
Near the end of the decision in Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 2017 WL 2547242, at *3 (S.D. Fla. June 12, 2017) the trial court includes in its injunctive relief a requirement that Winn-Dixie “require any third party vendors who participate on its website to be fully accessible to the disabled by conforming with WCAG 2.0 criteria.” This ruling rests on the ADA’s prohibition of discrimination “through contractual, licensing, or other arrangements.” [See, 42 U.S.C. §12182(b)(1)(A).] Winn-Dixie is a good reminder that becoming WCAG 2.0 compliant means focusing not just on your own website, but also on all the websites or web services to which you link. That can be a problem for businesses without much economic power.
Winn-Dixie is not a small business, but the web service providers mentioned in the Winn-Dixie decision, American Express and Google, are much bigger. Most businesses need third party vendors more than those vendors need them, so they aren’t likely to be able to force a change or do without the service provided them. This is an especially serious problem when the third party service is a pure internet business with a strong legal arguments against any ADA accessibility obligation. You might ask a vendor like Paypal or Google to guarantee accessibility for your customers, but you aren’t likely to succeed.
This disparity in bargaining power may be an excuse for partial non-compliance. In Natl. Assn. of the Deaf v. Harvard U., 2016 WL 3561622, at *16 (D. Mass. Feb. 9, 2016), report and recommendation adopted, 2016 WL 6540446 (D. Mass. Nov. 3, 2016) the court recognized that the ability to control third parties might play into the question of whether providing access presented an undue burden. As is so often the case in ADA litigation, once you reach the complexities of economic bargaining power and the advantages of similar but not identical third-party services the battle becomes so expensive that few businesses can afford to put up a fight.
Whether or not a business thinks it can negotiate with a big third-party vendor, it should at least consider the accessibility of third party websites and web services when deciding who to do business with, and it should document some effort to find accessible third-party vendors. Otherwise it may find that its own efforts to be accessible will not protect it from ADA liability while the courts slowly – very slowly – work toward resolving the nature of ADA obligations for websites.
Richard’s paper on the “Practical Implications of the Winn-Dixe Lawsuit” was posted to the Usablenet blog on August 23, 2017. This short paper reviews the history of application of the ADA to the Internet and the practical consequences of the present confusing state of the law. You can access it using the link above.
You may also be interested in our other recent posts on this subject:
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA regulations, ADA rulemaking, Uncategorized Tags: ADA Internet, ADA Title III Regulations, ADA web, Department of Justice ADA Regulations, WCAG 2.0
DOJ’s recent decision to put regulations concerning the internet and the ADA on indefinite hold has important implications for business, but not all of them are good.* It seems likely this move was prompted by executive orders from the Trump Administration requiring that agencies review proposed regulations and limit those that might increase costs to business. This has not been a notable success in terms of dollars. The savings so far ($22 million per year) amount to only .3% of the cost of regulations issued in the last five years. More important, at least with respect to the ADA, DOJ’s calculation that no regulation saves money ignores the very large cost imposed on business by uncertainty about how to deal with internet accessibility in an age when suing under the ADA is a large and growing industry. The proposed DOJ regulations, while they were absolutely wrong about the scope of the ADA with respect to the internet, at least provided business and the courts with guidance about what might be required. Without the regulations we are left in a wild wild west of conflicting court decisions and no officially sanctioned standard by which to judge internet compliance. More