Michael R. Fostakowsky, Esquire, Poole Shaffery & Koegle, LLP
Are you prepared to pay $100,000 in attorneys’ fees for your business’ discriminatory website? That’s exactly what happened to Florida-based supermarket chain Winn-Dixie when a legally blind customer filed suit because he was unable to fully utilize the company’s website, which was incompatible with the customer’s screen reader software. As a result of the court decision in Gil v. Winn-Dixie, numerous other states, including California, have seen a steady increase in the filings of these types of cases.
The ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, was signed into law in 1990 and in 2008 underwent significant modifications through the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 expanding the definition of “disability.” Title III of the ADA prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers “on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” A “place of public accommodation” is defined as a private entity whose operation affects commerce and meets other enumerated categories. Importantly, where a website is integrated with store locations (eg: customers can purchase items online, search for store locations, etc.), courts have found the website to be a service of a public accommodation and therefore covered by the ADA.
In Gil v. Winn-Dixie, the court ultimately held that Winn-Dixie’s website was inaccessible to visually impaired individuals who must use screen reader software. Therefore, Winn-Dixie was found to have violated the ADA because its website denied the plaintiff from the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations that Winn-Dixie offers its sighted customers.” The court ordered Winn-Dixie to modify its website to be congruent with current guidelines set forth under the WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) 2.0 published by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium, and later awarded Gil’s attorneys over $100,000 in fees and costs for bringing the suit.
Businesses must take practical steps to ensure compliance. The attorneys at Poole Shaffery & Koegle are prepared to assist in complying with WCAG 2.0 and ADA requirements.
Fostakowsky is a member of the employment and labor law department of Poole Shaffery & Koegle. For more information on Poole Shaffery & Koegle, call (855) 997-7522, or visit pooleshaffery.com.