ADA Title III Claims Continue to Gather Momentum

A company violated Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) because its website was inaccessible to individuals with vision-related disabilities, a federal judge in Florida has ruled. Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. (S.D. Fla. 2017).

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination “on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.” While there was no question the food retailer’s brick-and-mortar stores met the ADA’s definition of “public accommodation,” the Eleventh Circuit, which comprises Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, had never addressed whether the same could be said for a website.

The court held that Winn–Dixie’s website was “heavily integrated with Winn–Dixie’s physical store locations and operate[d] as a gateway to the physical store locations.” Accordingly, the court said, the website qualified as a public accommodation. Other courts had concluded that websites operating completely independently of a physical location may not be public accommodations under the ADA, the court observed.

Website accessibility is expected to be a fertile area for litigation, as discussed by MSEC’s Christina Kelley at this year’s Employment Law Update. 2016 saw a 37 percent increase in the number of Title III federal lawsuits filed over 2015. Arizona, Colorado, and Utah were among the top 10 states for the greatest number of Title III lawsuits in 2016.

Employers that are owners of places of public accommodation should consider meeting the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA) in order to mitigate potential risks. Note that while this is an important issue for employers, MSEC does not consult on matters concerning Title III of the ADA.