Judge Affirms Websites Subject to ADA as Places of Public Accommodation
Are websites subject to ADA? The answer continues to be yes. On June 13, 2017, the judge in Gil v. Winn-Dixie agreed with the plaintiff, that the website for the grocery and pharmacy chain in Florida was, in fact, a "place of public accommodation" and therefore subject to the American Disability Act. The judge imposed a 3-year injunction against the Winn-Dixie stores, forcing them to make their website accessible, and pay plaintiff attorney's fees and costs.
While this court's decision is not binding in other courts, it is instructive of how other courts may view such cases, and provides a clear playbook for plaintiffs. This decision is expected to embolden plaintiff firms and likely trigger another wave of litigation and demand letters.
The plaintiff in the case was legally blind and a customer of the grocery store and pharmacy chain. Using assistive technologies (JAWS screen reader) which enable people with disabilities to access websites, the plaintiff was unable to access and navigate areas of the website to obtain digital coupons, access the store's locator tool, or to refill prescriptions. Thus the customer was unable to enjoy the store's goods and services, and as such, Winn-Dixie was in violation of the Title III of the ADA.
The key to the plaintiff's case was first that the website was a “public accommodation” within the meaning of Title III, and the store violated the ADA by not providing an accessible website, thus depriving individuals with disabilities of the “full and equal enjoyment” of its services.
Of significance in this case:
- The first case in which a court has found a business violated Title III of the ADA by having an inaccessible website.
- The court agreed that the website constituted a "place of public accommodation".
- Rather than focus on the site's failure to meet WCAG standards (which hold no legal standing yet), the courts based their ruling on the plaintiff's testimony of not being able to access 90% of the site's content using the JAWS screen reader. As such the fact that a site fails WCAG, in and of itself may not constitute a solid ground for a claim, however the mere testimony of a disabled user's inability to use the site using commonly used software was.
- Yet, the Court did declare WCAG 2.0 AA as the remedy.