Website developers and even remediation experts have reason to be concerned about a recent decision from California. In Bashin v. Conduent, Inc., Case No. RG18888208 in the Superior Court for Alemeda County, Judge Brad Seligman refused to dismiss ADA claims against the developer of a website for the State of California Department of Public Works and Recreation. Each part of the decision identifies a real risk that every website developer needs to be aware of. More
ADA Website Accessibility
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Web Access, ADA Website Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, ADA Internet, website accessibility, Website litigation, website overlays, Website widgets
This is going to be an unusual blog because most of it will be in a footnote of sorts. The legal part of the blog is easy. If your business wants to avoid getting sued under the ADA because of an inaccessible website an accessibility overlay or widget isn’t going to help you. I can say this with some certainty because in the last two weeks alone five lawsuits have been filed against businesses that use an accessibility widget or overlay on their websites.* I also know why this is the case. The law firms who file website accessibility lawsuits and their pet clients start the process of finding a target using automated tools that scan for compliance with the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 or 2.1. I have used those tools on websites using an overlay or widget and they almost always flag errors of some kind. There is a lot a dispute about the effectiveness of these scanning tools, but effective or not getting flagged by one of them is an invitation to a lawsuit. If a widget doesn’t fix the errors plaintiff’s lawyers can find using automated tools it won’t prevent a lawsuit. The conclusion is simple. If avoiding litigation is your goal an overlay or widget won’t do the trick. More
I was in the midst of preparing a presentation on ADA website obligations for the Texas Mortgage Bankers Association when I got an email from Jason Richmond of Anttix, Inc., a website design and accessibility consultant. He asked me to clarify, for the benefit of some of his clients, whether the ADA applied to the websites of businesses with fewer than 15 employees. The short answer is: yes, it does. It isn’t surprising though that many businesses and even lawyers are confused about this.
Two different parts of the ADA, Titles I and III, apply to most private businesses. Title I applies to businesses as employers and deals with the rights of disabled employees. Title III applies to businesses that are open to the public and deals with the rights of disabled members of the public. Therein lies the confusion.
Title I only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. Here’s the statutory tracking for the relevant parts of Title I:
- 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a) forbids discrimination by “covered entities.”
- 42 U.S.C. § 12111(2) defines “covered entities” to include employers and
- 42 U.S.C. § 12111(5)(a) defines “employers” as businesses with 15 or more employees.
Thus, only employers with 15 or more employees are covered by Title I.
Coverage of Title III, on the other hand, goes like this:
- 42 U.S.C. §12182 forbids discrimination by persons who own, lease or operate a “public accommodation.”
- 42 U.S.C. §12181(7) defines a “public accommodation” as any business that falls into one of ten categories of business that typically deal with the public. There is no mention of the number of employees.
Thus, Title III covers any business open to the public, no matter how few employees it has.
An additional source of confusion comes from the fact that not all businesses are public accommodations. A factory, for example, is not usually a public accommodation because it isn’t open to the public. If a factory has 15 or more employees it must to comply with Title I, but if it doesn’t sell to the public it probably does not have any obligation to comply with Title III.
That “probably” can also be a source of confusion. Many courts say that every website that can be accessed by the public is a public accommodation covered by Title III of the ADA. A factory that has no store open to the public might still be covered by Title III if it has a website open to the public. Not all courts agree and the law is developing rapidly, but the safest bet for any business with a website is to treat the website as a public accommodation that must be accessible to those with disabilities under Title III of the ADA.
So, whether a business has only one employee or a thousand, if it is open to the public either in a building or on the internet it is probably covered by Title III of the ADA, and that means it needs an accessible website unless it has a lot of spare cash and a taste for protracted litigation.*
* In which case please call me – I’d love to carry on the fight for you.
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Attorney's Fees, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Website Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, ADA Internet, ADA standing, ADA website, FHA Defense, National Association of the Deaf, National Federation for the Blind, point of sale devices
Happy Valentine’s Day. The last few weeks have brought the usual assortment of cases, some of more interest than others. I’ll lead with a personal jurisdiction case that has the potential to be important for website accessibility lawsuits.
ADA Website Litigation – an important personal jurisdiction case.
By Richard Hunt in Accessibility Litigation Trends, ADA - drive-by litigation, ADA - Hotels, ADA - serial litigation, ADA - Standing, ADA Attorney's Fees, ADA Internet, ADA Internet Web, ADA Litigation Procedure, ADA Mootness, ADA regulations, ADA Web Access, ADA Website Accessibility Tags: ADA defense, ADA reasonable accommodation, ADA standing, FHA Defense, Strojnik
Halloween is a month away, but the candy is on the shelves at our local grocery stores and the courts are already delivering tricks and treats for those of us concerned with accessibility lawsuits.
The complexities of accessibility in federal programs.
Ramos v. Raritan Valley Habitat for Humanity, 2019 WL 4316575 (D.N.J. Sept. 12, 2019) contains more law than can be easily summarized, covering:
- HUD and federal sovereign immunity under the ADA, FHA and Rehabilitation Act
- Standing for complaints of administrative action where federal sovereign immunity is waived.
- State sovereign immunity under the ADA and FHA
- The elements of a failure to accommodate claim
- And of intentional discrimination claims.
The most interesting thing to me about the case is the facts that gave rise to it, for the complaints that will ultimately go forward seem to reflect the state agency’s stubborn refusal to be helpful to a disabled couple. If the allegations are true the state would not provide forms and letters with a font big enough for the vision disabled plaintiffs to read them and refused to meet either at their residence or by video conference to accommodate their inability to travel. This, by the way, was after the parties had reached a conciliation agreement that supposedly resolved the matter. Agencies, landlords and others who want to stay out of court should think of the accommodation process as a shared effort to solve a problem, not an adversary proceeding to be won or lost.
Bone v. U. of N. Carolina Health Care System, 2019 WL 4393531 (M.D.N.C. Sept. 13, 2019), like Ramos, has a complicated set of facts and an equally complicated series of rulings on issues that include associational standing and liability for the acts of contractors. It also shares the appearance that nobody associated with the defendants was really paying attention, which is always a problem in a bureaucracy. It’s quite possible the low level employee charged with delivering braille invoices to the plaintiffs thought a few months was reasonable turn around time given the seemingly eternal delays associated with hospital billing and reimbursement, but from the plaintiff’s standpoint getting collection notices for invoices he couldn’t read was disturbing. One question, however, is never raised or answered. There are a large number of handheld text reading devices available for the blind, and it would seem such devices could be a reasonable substitute for braille. At what point does the refusal of a disabled person to take advantage of new technologies make his or her request for accommodation unreasonable? More