By now, readers of our blog are familiar with the topic of website accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Recently, thousands of lawsuits have been filed in federal courts alleging that company websites are not accessible to the visually or hearing-impaired, in violation of Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in “places of public accommodation.”
Circuit Courts Are Split Concerning Website Accessibility and ADA Compliance.
A little more than a year ago, the California Court of Appeals ruled, in part, that “retail websites without any connection to a physical space” cannot constitute a “place of accommodation” under the ADA. And while the law concerning website accessibility remains unsettled in courts around the country, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals is not one of those jurisdictions. In the Third Circuit, the law remains that a stand-alone business website, without a physical location, is not a place of public accommodation such that it must comply with the ADA. Despite the law seemingly being established, district courts in the State of Pennsylvania take opposite positions.
Although cases out of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (“EDPA”) repeatedly fall in line with the Third Circuit, strangely, the Western District of Pennsylvania (“WDPA”) takes a diametrically opposed viewpoint. Contrary to Third Circuit precedent, judges in the WDPA routinely hold that a business website is a “place of public accommodation,” even if the business does not have a “physical” or brick-and-mortar location. Taking advantage of this schism between the EDPA and WDPA, plaintiff’s attorneys have filed hundreds of lawsuits in the WDPA on behalf of visually or hearing-impaired individuals alleging violations of Title III of the ADA for lack of website accessibility. Most of these lawsuits concern a business’s website being incompatible with screen reader technology which individuals with disabilities use to access content on the Internet. Congress and the Department of Justice’s inaction to clarify this dichotomy exacerbate the ambiguity and until legislative or regulatory action is taken, aggressive plaintiff’s attorneys will continue to file website accessibility lawsuits against website-only businesses in favorable jurisdictions, such as the WDPA.
Is Your Website A Place of Accommodation?
Unfortunately, the answer to the question of whether your business’s website constitutes a “place of accommodation” remains: “it depends.” Depending on what jurisdiction you are in, your website may be considered a “place of accommodation” under certain circumstances and, as such, subject to ADA compliance requirements. Because the law is unsettled at best, website operators must be aware of applicable ADA requirements, as well as how to ensure website accessibility compliance. To safeguard against potential website accessibility liability, it is essential that businesses consult with experienced attorneys.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic or have been served with legal process in connection with issues involving website accessibility, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 obtaining 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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