The Golden State Warriors (the "Warriors") are the latest high-profile company to have a website-related American with Disabilities Act ("ADA") lawsuit filed against them. On January 21, 2021, a class action complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that the Warriors website, https://shop.warriors.com/, violates the ADA and California's Unruh Civil Rights Act ("UCRA") because it is not fully accessible to blind and visually impaired consumers. Until a federal standard is created for ADA website compliance, businesses must work to meet Website Content Accessibility Guidelines ("WCAG") 2.1 Level AA success criteria for ADA website compliance.
What must businesses do to avoid website ADA lawsuits?
Avoiding Website ADA Lawsuits
Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability "in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods [and] services . . . of any place of public accommodation." It is generally accepted that websites are places of public accommodation. The World Wide Web Consortium ("W3C"), the main international standards organization for the Internet, has published the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ("WCAG") for companies to use as the gold standard of ADA compliance. The WCAG is currently on version 2.1, featuring a tiered system of A, double-A, and triple-A compliance, with triple-A being the highest standard. Courts of law that have addressed the issue have found that websites must reach at least a double-A, WCAG 2.1 standard to comply with the ADA.
Unfortunately, achieving ADA compliance is akin to trying to hit a moving target. We say this because website venues are, by nature, more fluid than brick-and-mortar stores and the ability for online businesses to identify disabled customers that come to their sites is also more difficult. Additionally, there are career plaintiffs who bring dozens of website ADA lawsuits against companies throughout the country in the hope of forcing large monetary settlements.
To avoid website ADA lawsuits businesses should:
- continuously audit their websites for WCAG 2.1 double-A compliance and keep detailed records of such compliance efforts;
- post an accessibility statement on their websites that discusses ADA compliance measures, providing contact information for people that may have difficulty accessing the websites; and
- train employees on ADA compliance.
In October 2020, Congressmen Ted Budd (R-NC) and Lou Correa (D-CA) introduced the Online Accessibility Act (the "Act"), a measure aimed at both bringing uniformity to ADA website compliance guidelines and reducing the amount of website ADA lawsuits that are filed across the United States. Although the bill died in committee, there is hope that the Biden administration will work to address ADA-related litigation and its associated burden on the court system.
Given the foregoing, businesses should invest time and money in website accessibility compliance. Consulting with knowledgeable counsel who can help protect against costly website ADA litigation.
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