Since late last year, many banks in California, New York and
Pennsylvania have received demand letters from two law firms that
claim the websites of those banks violate Title III of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The demand letters assert
that individuals with disabilities (typically the visually
impaired) attempted to use the website of the banks, and faced
unreasonable barriers to access, which made it impossible for the
claimants to access the websites. The websites, according to the
law firms, fail to comply with website standards developed by the
World Wide Web Consortium called Web Content Accessibility
Guidelines (WCAG 2.0). The law firms seek attorneys' fees,
costs and injunctive relief in connection with the demand
Litigation has been commenced in several states, including
California, over this issue of website accessibility by visually
The ADA's Title III became law in 2000 and protects disabled
persons in public accommodation and commercial businesses. While
Title III itself does not contemplate websites as a place of public
accommodation, the Department of Justice ("DOJ") along
with several courts have reached that conclusion. The DOJ, which is
charged with responsibility for promulgation of regulations, has
promised to implement regulations by 2018. The DOJ has said in the
interim WCAG 2.0 provides a minimum standard. A number of courts
have agreed and allowed pending cases to continue despite motions
to dismiss or stay the action until the DOJ issues its regulations.
These decisions have meant that banks have been forced to defend
these actions without really knowing what the DOJ regulations will
provide. Several have settled with the law firms rather than
litigate. Now there may be some relief for banks in California.
On March 20, 2017, a federal judge in Los Angeles granted
Domino's Pizza's motion to dismiss a website accessibility
lawsuit filed by a visually impaired person. In Robles v.
Domino's Pizza LLC the District Judge ratified the argument
that in absence of a clear DOJ regulation of what
"accessibility" means for a website, the defendant's
due process rights had been violated. The Court chastised the DOJ
for failing to follow through on its July 2010 pronouncement to
regulate website accommodation for public accommodation and ruled
it was unfair to hold the defendant to an ambiguous legal
obligation or the WCAG 2.0. The Court dismissed the action
"pending the resolution of an issue with the special
competence of an administrative agency." This federal court
parted ways with several other courts which had applied WCAG 2.0 as
standards despite the DOJ's failure to issue regulations.
While this ruling provides ammunition for clients seeking to
fight these claims, it also leaves banks with uncertainty as to
just how to improve websites to meet future ADA regulations by the
DOJ. An unintended consequence of this ruling also strengthens the
hands of bank vendors which have routinely denied any obligation to
comply with WCAG 2.0.
Since, Robles was dismissed without prejudice, it can be refiled
when the DOJ regulations are announced.
In the meantime, hopefully, the DOJ will act and provide the
regulatory help which may actually assist the industry in this
Disclaimer:This Alert has been
prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not
offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more
information, please see the firm's
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