There is a significant rise in ADA Title III lawsuits against large retailers and RIAs across the U.S. Many of these lawsuits are filed in Federal courts by blind users. They allege that the websites are inaccessible and incompatible with screen readers.
Businesses and large financial institutions must be mindful of website accessibility while designing, creating, and operating a webpage. Inaccessible websites and web content are barriers to potential customers and can lead to lawsuits and stiff penalties if ignored.
The American with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities.
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It guarantees people with disabilities the same right to employment opportunities, purchase goods and services, and participate in state and local government programs.
The ADA Prohibits Disability Discrimination in Many Areas of Life
To prevent discrimination against people with disabilities, the ADA sets out requirements that apply to many everyday situations.
Employers, state and local governments, businesses that are open to the public, commercial facilities, transportation providers, and telecommunication companies all have to follow ADA requirements.
Businesses that are open to the public: Title III
Title III applies to businesses and non-profits serving the public. Examples of businesses and non-profits include restaurants, hotels, retail stores, movie theatres, private schools, doctors’ offices and hospitals, day care centres, and gyms.
Businesses must provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to access the goods or services that they offer.
ADA Title III Federal Lawsuit Filings Hit an All Time High
The number of ADA Title III lawsuits filed in federal court decreased to 11,000 in 2020. Comparatively, there were at least 11,452 ADA Title III related federal filings in 2021 – an all-time record.
Total Number of ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits Filed Each Year: January 1, 2013 – December 31, 2021
Source: Seyfarth Shaw
What do the numbers tell us?
California remains a lawsuit hotbed as plaintiffs can add a state law discrimination claim under the Unruh Act. They can get $4,000 in statutory damages for every incident of discrimination without even having to prove an actual injury.
The 5,930 California filings accounted for just over half the total number of filings nationwide. New York was a distant second, with 2,774 lawsuits, and Florida was third, with only 1,054 lawsuits.
California, New York, and Florida ADA Title III Federal Lawsuits (2013-2021)
Source: Seyfarth Shaw
Top Ten States with Federal ADA Title III Lawsuits Filed: January 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021
Source: Seyfarth Shaw
Recent Title III Class action lawsuits
Hy-Vee class action claims website inaccessible to blind, visually impaired users
On August 24, 2022, a visually impaired woman Jasmine Toro filed a class action lawsuit against the retailer Hy-Vee. The class action complaint was filed in a New York federal court, alleging violations of the ADA.
According to the lawsuit, Hy-Vee has failed to design its website, to be fully accessible to blind or visually impaired users.
The class action states that the defendant is denying blind and visually impaired persons equal access to the goods and services Hy-Vee provides to their non-disabled customers.
The website has multiple barriers to people with visual impairments. Some of the barriers include, inaccurate heading hierarchy, inadequate focus order, ambiguous link texts, inaccessible contact information, changing of content without advance warning, lack of alt text on graphics, the denial of keyboard access for some interactive elements and the requirement that transactions be performed solely with a mouse, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiff seeks certification of the class action, an injunction forcing the company to make its website compatible with screen readers, damages, fees, costs and a jury trial.
Source: Top Class Actions
L’Oréal hit with class action lawsuit over website being inaccessible to blind users
In a filing made in a New York federal court, a visually impaired woman, Marina Iskhakova filed a class action suit against L’Oréal. She states that the company’s Saloncentric website is not accessible to visually impaired people using a screen reader.
The lawsuit alleges that the website is inaccessible to blind users in violation of the ADA. Some of the inaccessible features include, lack of alt text, broken links, and pages with identical titles.
The plaintiff wants a permanent injunction to make the website accessible to blind and visually impaired users.
Source: Global Cosmetics News
Chic Soul class action claims website inaccessible to blind, visually impaired users
On August 24, 2022, a visually impaired and legally blind woman, Veronica Maddy filed a class action complaint against the retailer Chic Soul.
The complaint stated that the retailer’s website is inaccessible for blind and visually impaired people using a screen reader, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The plaintiff is seeking certification of the class action, an injunction forcing the company to update its website and make it accessible, damages, fees, costs and a jury trial.
Source: Top Class Actions
Guess hit with South Florida Website Accessibility suit
A plaintiff named Nelson Fernandez who is visually impaired and physically disabled living in South Florida has filed a website accessibility lawsuit against the retailer Guess.
In his filing he stated that due to the retailer’s inaccessible website, he was unable to check store hours, merchandise pricing, arrange in-store pick-ups and returns, purchase merchandise, and sign up for an e-mailer to receive exclusive offers.
He tried to navigate the website using a screen reader, but the barriers prevented him from fully accessing the site.
The barriers include mislabeled logos and buttons and inaccessible sub-menus when navigating with a keyboard.
The filing further goes on to state that the retailer did not initiate a web accessibility policy, assign a web accessibility coordinator, or constitute a web accessibility user testing group when the issues were brought to its attention.
Large RIAs sued over claims that websites are inaccessible to the blind
A plaintiff’s attorney based in New York is taking RIAs across the country to court over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The lawsuit alleges that these websites are inaccessible to blind or visually impaired customers.
In the last two months, Jeffrey M. Gottlieb of law firm Gottlieb & Associates has filed class action lawsuits against Creative Planning, Mercer Global Advisors, along with financial institutions including Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Deutsche Bank.
Each lawsuit is filed by an individual plaintiff ‘on behalf of herself and all other persons similarly situated. Each lawsuit refers to Title III of the American’s with Disabilities Act that also applies to websites.
The suits go after alleged failures by the defendants to ‘design, construct, maintain, and operate’ their websites in a manner that is ‘fully accessible to and independently usable by Plaintiff and other blind or visually-impaired people.’
The suits point out the failure to make websites compatible with computer screen reader programs used by the blind.
It appears that the majority of Gottlieb’s cases end with settlements. Court documents filed earlier this week indicate that Creative Planning has settled with plaintiff Marcus Calcano, a blind resident of the Bronx.
codemantra is a leading Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) Solutions Provider. Its AI-driven platform automates digital document accessibility compliance; captures, classifies, and extracts data; and transforms documents into any output format.
How codemantra helps?
codemantra helps businesses and financial institutions to make their websites and web content accessible to people with disabilities. It’s AI-powered platform provides end-to-end compliance as per ADA, Section 508, WCAG, and PDF U/A standards.
codemantra’s accessibilityInsight helps to identify document structural elements, assign the correct reading order and bookmarks in a logical hierarchy. It also allows users to enter custom alt text for images and meaningful descriptions for links and buttons.
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