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Avoiding ADA Website Accessibility Lawsuits

Posted by Leslie Ruhland on Dec 18, 2018 12:00:03 PM
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Anyone who has been in business for at least the last 25 years knows that accessibility to their place of business is regulated by law. Business owners are restrained in terms what they can and cannot do with sidewalks, entryways, and stairs, etc.

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This is because Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)  requires that private sector businesses that serve as "places of accommodations" must ensure there are no "access barriers" that can hinder a disabled person's access to their goods and services. And this applies to any business with over 15 employees.  

This has been the case for so long that it is taken for granted that any “brick-and-mortar” business will always have ramps where needed and other accommodations as required. In fact, any ADA lawsuits filed had to do with physical access barriers to stores, restaurants, and offices, etc.

That has begun to change in recent years with the advent of business websites.

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ADA Lawsuits Involving Commercial Website Accessibility

In recent years that have been thousands of lawsuits, both individual and class action, filed by blind or visually impaired plaintiffs.  These lawsuits have alleged that commercial websites are not accessible to the blind or visually impaired in violation of the ADA.

These lawsuits are predicated on the premise that commercial websites should be treated as “places of public accommodation” just like physical buildings and that they also represent a lack of “equal access” which is, therefore, a violation of the Title III of the ADA. In addition, the accessibility of mobile applications and online job application systems have also challenged in several lawsuits. 

Unfortunately for business owners, all types of businesses and industries have been the subject of complaints. Not only are cases being decided in favor of plaintiffs upholding the requirements of the ADA for websites, some courts have made use of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) that were developed by a private standards setting organization. The WCAG is not, however, a legal requirement for ADA compliance.

According to an article from Goulston & Storrs PC,

“…in June 2017, the first trial concerning website accessibility concluded in a Florida federal court. The defendant, Winn-Dixie grocery stores, was ordered to comply with the WCAG. More recently, in August and December 2017, a New York federal court held that the ADA and state civil rights laws applied to Blick Art Materials’ website and approved a class settlement agreement requiring Blick to implement the WCAG.” 

In the Winn Dixie case, the court held that grocer's website violated the ADA and ordered it to make the necessary changes to its website, which some sources estimated would cost close to $250,000.

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What Businesses Should Do About Their Websites   

There have been conflicting decisions regarding websites for businesses that are online only and have no brick-and-mortar presence. And not all courts have agreed on the extent of the compliance requirements of the ADA for websites. For example, there is a case pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, that has challenged the applicability of the ADA to websites and use of the WCAG on grounds of constitutional due process. 

While many of these cases settle early, some businesses have tried to fight the lawsuits, but with varied outcomes. It appears that very few courts have agreed to dismiss these types of cases. 

A good preemptive strategy for any business would be to assess whether their company website approximates compliance with the ADA and any state laws. In the absence of any federal or state laws or regulations specifying accessibility requirements, businesses should probably take steps to adopt the most recent version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).  

A good piece of counsel comes from an article at Mondaq.com,

“Given the uncertainty of this legal landscape and the risk of being sued, all companies should take steps to assess the accessibility of their digital presence and should consider reducing legal exposure by obtaining representations and warranties or indemnifications from third parties who code their digital content.”

While the lack of clear regulations creates a great deal of uncertainty as to the website accessibility measures needed, taking a proactive approach to accessibility can help reduce the risk of being a defendant in a website ADA lawsuit.

Best Practices for Managing Labor Law Compliance

Outsourcing HR functions is an increasingly common strategy for small businesses and the advantages are worth asking about. In addition to reducing your in-house costs, increasing accuracy and security, you can also benefit by freeing your HR resources for improving operational functions, recruiting efforts, and training. 

When it comes to payroll management, you have several options for your HR and payroll staff. Software that can be installed in-house, or cloud-based programs offer a good alternative. But if you really want to take full advantage of the benefits available to you, outsourcing to a provider like Accuchex can still be the best decision.

Reliability, full-service options, and reputation are the hallmarks of a quality HR management service provider. If you are currently looking to invest in outsourcing you get your Free Download: California Labor Law guide to help you make an informed decision or call Accuchex Payroll Management Services at 877-422-2824.

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Topics: ADA, lawsuits, accessibility, websites, HR compliance

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