ADA compliance person on computer online shopping online retail

ADA Compliance and Retail Websites

For several years, consumers have flooded the Western District of Pennsylvania (“WDPA”) with Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) compliance lawsuits, alleging that companies are violating the ADA because their websites are inaccessible to the visually or hearing impaired. It is well-settled in the Third Circuit, of which the WDPA is a part, that a “place of public accommodation” under Title III of the ADA requires a connection to a physical location. The Eastern District of Pennsylvania (“EDPA”) has followed Third Circuit legal precedent. However, the WDPA has eschewed the physical location requirement and has determined that retail websites, without a physical location, qualify as a “place of physical accommodation” under the ADA. This was the prevailing trend in the WDPA until earlier this year, when the WDPA dismissed two cases alleging ADA compliance violations against companies whose websites did not have any nexus to a physical location.

Federal Judge Dismisses ADA Compliance Claims

In Murphy v. Spongelle LLC, Case No. 1:23-cv-00079-RAL, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12340 (W.D.Pa. Jan. 24, 2024), Murphy, who is legally blind and relies on screen reader software to access digital content, alleged that Spongelle’s website was not accessible to the visually impaired. Specifically, Murphy alleged that Spongelle’s website prevented screen readers from accessing certain content, such as discount code offers. Murphy further alleged that the website did not provide text equivalents for visually impaired individuals who cannot view a picture, logo or icon. In response, Spongelle moved to dismiss Murphy’s claim on the grounds that Title III of the ADA requires a “physical nexus” to a physical location. Bucking the predominant trend in the WDPA, the Court granted Spongelle’s motion to dismiss and ruled that, “based on the weight of authority in this Circuit, Murphy’s Complaint fails to state a claim under Title III of the ADA.”

Murphy also filed a nearly identical ADA compliance lawsuit against another company in the WDPA. In Murphy v. Hammacher, Schlemmer & Co. Inc., Case No. 1:23-cv-00135-SPB-RAL, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24246 (W.D.Pa. Feb. 12, 2024), Murphy alleged that Hammacher’s website was not accessible to the visually impaired. Like Spongelle, Hammacher moved to dismiss on the grounds that its website is not a “place of public accommodation” because its website is not connected to a physical location. Again, the Court agreed and granted Hammacher’s motion to dismiss. In support of its decision, the Court explained that the text of the statute itself “contemplates at the very least some nexus between the physical place of public accommodation and the services denied in a discriminatory manner.”

Is Your Website ADA-Compliant?

It should be noted that Spongelle and Hammacher were decided by the same federal judge. Prior to these two cases, the WDPA overwhelmingly denied similar motions to dismiss, and held that a retail website without any physical location falls within the meaning of Title III of the ADA. Therefore, it is unclear whether these decisions are outliers or whether they are a harbinger of change in the WDPA. Until the Third Circuit Court of Appeals weighs in on this issue and resolves the split between the WDPA and the EDPA, ADA website accessibility lawsuits are certain to continue. As such, it is imperative that businesses continue to ensure that their websites are equally accessible to the visually and/or hearing impaired in order to avoid potential ADA claims.

The attorneys at Klein Moynihan Turco have a wealth of experience in defending companies against ADA website accessibility compliance claims. Our first-rate litigation defense team will use this experience to ensure that your business gets the best possible representation.

If you need assistance with website accessibility compliance or defending against an ADA claim, please email us at info@kleinmoynihan.com or call us at (212) 246-0900.

The material contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not legal advice nor is it a substitute for seeking legal advice from an attorney. Each situation is unique, and you should not act or rely on any information contained herein without seeking the advice of an experienced attorney.

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David Klein

David Klein is one of the most recognized attorneys in the technology, Internet marketing, sweepstakes, and telecommunications fields. Skilled at counseling clients on a broad range of technology-related matters, David Klein has substantial experience in negotiating and drafting complex licensing, marketing and Internet agreements.

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