Warning: Websites and Apps Must Comply with the ADA

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Recently, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza that an employer’s websites and mobile applications, or “apps,” are subject to the strictures of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (“ADA”).

In Robles, a man with visual impairments filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against Domino’s, alleging violations of the ADA because its website and app were not compatible with screen reading software. The district court dismissed the lawsuit, holding that while Domino’s website was a “place of accommodation” subject to Title III of the ADA, applying the ADA to the website violated Domino’s due process rights because the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had failed to provide helpful guidance concerning the ADA’s application to websites, despite promising to do so since as early as 2010. 

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed and sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings.  Significant to employers with a website or mobile app, the Court held:

1.    Domino’s is a “place of public accommodation” subject to Title III of the ADA;

2.    “Places of public accommodation” are required, under the ADA, to provide auxiliary aids and services to individuals with disabilities. This requirement applies to Domino’s website and mobile app; and

3.    Domino’s received fair notice that its website and mobile app must comply with the ADA, and thus its due process rights were not violated. Specifically, the Ninth Circuit ruled that despite the DOJ’s failure to provide guidance, Domino’s had sufficient notice that its website and mobile app should comply with the ADA because the ADA itself articulates “comprehensive standards” for compliance.

Problematically for employers, the Court did not adopt any specific guidelines for compliance, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (“WCAG 2.0”).  Rather, the Court concluded that Domino’s website and mobile app “must provide effective communication and facilitate full and equal enjoyment of Domino’s goods and services to its customers who are disabled.”

Note that the Robles decision may lead to more litigation regarding whether an employer’s website and/or mobile apps are ADA-compliant. To minimize litigation risk, employers may wish to work with an accessibility expert and/or competent counsel to analyze and potentially remediate any ADA compliance issues.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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