Federal Court Holds First Trial on Website Accessibility Under the ADA

Author: Marta Moakley, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 23, 2017

A federal judge has found in Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., (S.D.Fla. No. 16-23020-Civ-Scola) that a corporation violated Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) because its website was inaccessible to individuals with vision-related disabilities. The opinion, verdict and order followed the first federal trial on the issue of website accessibility. Employers that are owners of places of public accommodation should take note of the decision and consider meeting the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 AA) in order to mitigate potential risks.

The court in Gil held that a regional food retailer's website was inaccessible to visually impaired individuals who must use screen reader software. The court also found that the employer has a legal obligation to require any third-party vendors responsible for portions of the website (such as those providing a store locator tool or a loyalty points program) to meet accessibility requirements. The order also requires yearly mandatory web accessibility training for staff who develop content for the corporation's website.

The court's opinion notes that courts have generally found that if a website is heavily integrated with a physical store location and operates as a gateway to the location, then "the website is a service of a public accommodation and is covered by the ADA." On the other hand, courts have reached differing conclusions regarding ADA applicability when websites operate independently of a physical location.

The court found that injunctive relief was proper because removing barriers to website accessibility was "readily achievable," as is required by ADA regulations.

Following the trial, the court awarded an injunction and attorney's fees. Under the ADA, the claimant is not entitled to monetary damages.

Website accessibility will continue to be the subject of regulation by federal agencies and litigation in the courts. The DOJ may release regulations to address the requirements for website and application accessibility in 2018. In addition, state law may also address website accessibility: California's Unruh Civil Rights Act has been found to cover website accessibility claims raised by the visually impaired.