ADA Website Accessibility
Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by any “place of public accommodation,” which courts have interpreted to cover automobile dealerships.1 It is unclear whether that means dealers must ensure equal access to goods and services online in addition to those offered at brick-and-mortar locations. The United States Supreme Court recently had the opportunity to resolve that issue but declined to weigh in for now.2
When Congress passed the ADA in 1990, the Internet was nothing like it is today. Unsurprisingly, then, Congress did not expressly address whether Title III imposes specific requirements on businesses with websites and mobile apps, and courts are divided on how to apply that provision of the law. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (which resolves appeals in federal cases brought in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana) has held that Title III covers any business that offers goods and services to the public, regardless of whether the business operates in a physical or virtual space.3 As the court explained, the “site of the sale is irrelevant to Congress’s goal of granting the disabled equal access to sellers of goods and services. What matters is that the goods or services be offered to the public.”4 Other federal appellate courts have reached the opposite conclusion, holding that the ADA reaches only physical spaces.5
Dealers cannot afford to wait for the Supreme Court to clarify the law. More than 2,250 federal lawsuits were filed in 2018 alone asserting ADA violations based on website inaccessibility — nearly triple the number of cases filed in 2017.6 Although these cases typically do not involve a claim for damages, successful litigants may recover costs and attorney’s fees, as well as a court order requiring changes. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, which were developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), set international standards that if satisfied would likely meet Title III requirements.7 Dealers should review their website content and mobile applications and consult their legal counsel to determine whether they meet the latest standards for accessibility.
1 See, e.g., Karczewski v. DCH Mission Valley LLC, 862 F.3d 1006, 1011 (9th Cir. 2017).
2 See Domino’s Pizza, LLC v. Robles, Case No. 18 – 1539, cert. denied, Oct. 7, 2019.
3 Doe v. Mutual of Omaha Ins. Co., 179 F.3d 557, 559 (7th Cir. 1999).
4 Morgan v. Joint Admin. Bd., Ret. Plan, 268 F.3d 456, 459 (7th Cir. 2001)
5 See, e.g., Parker v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 121 F.3d 1006, 1010 (6th Cir. 1997) (en banc); Ford v. Schering-Plough Corp., 145 F.3d 601, 614 (3d Cir. 1998); Weyer v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 198 F.3d 1104, 1114 (9th Cir. 2000).
6 See Minh N. Vu, Kristina M. Launey & Susan Ryan, Number of Federal Lawsuits Nearly Triple, Exceeding 2250 in 2018, ADA Title III: News & Insights (Jan. 31, 2019), available at https://tinyurl.com/y3y7o3rg.
7 See W3C, Accessibility Standards Overview, available at https://tinyurl.com/yywaqc5f.
The information provided is for general informational purposes only. This post is not updated to account for changes in the law and should not be considered tax or legal advice. This article is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. You should consult with legal and/or financial advisors for legal and tax advice tailored to your specific circumstances.