Court Rules ADA Applies to Website

Read the full decision: Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.

After a trial, a Florida federal court finds that grocery store chain’s website violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) because the grocery store’s website had become integrated into its physical stores and a disabled individual was unable to download coupons, order prescriptions, or find store locations on the website.

A visually impaired individual (“User”) relied on screen reading software to access websites. He attempted to access the website (“Website”) for a large grocery store chain (“Website Owner”), as he had learned from television advertisements that the store provided coupons on the Website and allowed individuals to fill prescriptions on the Website. Previously, the User needed help to find coupons in the newspaper and he also needed assistance when he visited the stores to fill prescriptions.

The User found that his screen reading software could not access 90% of the Website’s tabs. Screen readers access tabs to allow the user to obtain the website’s information. Because the screen reader couldn’t access the Website’s tabs, the User wasn’t able to obtain any information from the Website, including the store locator tab.

The User filed a lawsuit alleging that the Website Owner violated Title III of the ADA because the Website was a place of public accommodation that was inaccessible to him. Enacted in 1990, Title III of the ADA specifically aims to end discrimination by private entities that operate a “place of public accommodation,” and requires that any existing architectural and communication barriers be removed (where such removal is readily achievable and would not cause undue hardship to the entity) so that disabled persons are provided equal participation and benefits. The ADA did not address whether public websites fall under Title III, but the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) has opined that public websites are places of “public accommodation” and began a rule making in 2010 to create accessibility requirements for public websites. However, the DOJ has yet to issue a final rule.

The court held a non-jury trial on whether the inaccessibility of the Website to the User violated the ADA. During the trial, the Website Owner testified that it had plans to make the Website accessible to disabled individuals and had budgeted $250,000 for this purpose. A witness whose company helped make websites accessible estimated that it would only cost around $40,000 to make the Website usable for screen readers and WCAG 2.0 compliant. The witness also said that making the third parties (such as map providers) that were part of the Website compliant is not difficult because many of these third parties have already met the WCAG guidelines.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida ruled in favor of the User and ordered the parties to draft an injunction that would require the Website Owner to make the Website accessible and conform to WCAG 2.0 criteria. While the Eleventh Circuit (where the court was located) had yet to rule on whether websites are places of public accommodation under the ADA, the appellate court had ruled in an earlier case that the ADA not only barred physical barriers preventing access to places of public accommodation but also intangible barriers preventing access to places of public accommodation.

The court ruled that the ADA required the Website to be accessible because the Website was “heavily integrated” into the Website Owner’s store locations and operated as a “gateway” to the stores. The court stated that it was not ruling that the ADA required websites to be accessible to disabled individuals, but ADA required accessibility in this instance because of the Website’s integration into the Website Owner’s physical stores, consistent with the earlier Eleventh Circuit decision. Therefore, the court ordered the parties to craft an injunction that would require the Website Owner to bring the Website into compliance with WCAG 2.0, including requiring the Website’s third-parties such as map providers to also meet the WCAG 2.0 standard.

Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., No. CV 16-23020-CIV, 2017 WL 2547242 (S.D. Fla. June 12, 2017). [This is a citation to a Westlaw document. Westlaw is a subscription, online legal research service. If an official reporter citation should become available for this case, the citation will be updated to reflect this information.

Advertisement

Window to the Law

Window to the Law is a monthly video series focusing on a legal topic of interest.