Circuit Panel Reverses Website Accessibility Decision

The split decision by the 11th Circuit Court found that websites are not a “public accommodation.”

April 09, 2021

Gavel in Court Room

ATLANTA—This week, the 11th Circuit Panel overturned a 2017 decision that Winn-Dixie Stores’ website violated a blind Florida customer’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Law360 reports. The key finding of the split ruling was that under the law, website are not a “public accommodation.”

“We have worked on potential legislation in the past to deal with the demand letter and lawsuit problem on website ADA issues,” Jon Taets, NACS director of government relations, told NACS Daily. “This ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals would solve that problem by saying that the ADA does not apply to websites unless Congress updates the law to say so. This is a big decision that would give our members protection against these suits.”

A Florida district court ordered the grocery chain to conform “its website into compliance with the privately formulated web content accessibility guidelines” which “opened the floodgates for numerous similar lawsuits against companies over website accessibility,” according to the Law360 article.

The 11th Circuit Panel’s majority acknowledged that the plaintiff did expose a real issue of concern for blind Americans, Title III of the ADA’s definition of public accommodation limited it to physical places. “Absent congressional action that broadens the definition of 'places of public accommodation' to include websites, we cannot extend ADA liability to the facts presented to us here, where there is no barrier to the access demanded by the statute,” the panel’s majority opinion said.

“We are pleased with the opinion and that the 11th Circuit agreed that websites are not places of public accommodation under the ADA,” said Winn-Dixie counsel Susan Warner. “The ruling comports with the plain language of the statute, which limits places of public accommodation to physical locations. As the court concluded, the issue of the ADA's applicability to websites is best left to Congress to address, not the courts.”

As previously reported in NACS Daily, this isn’t the first time a retailer’s website has been under scrutiny in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act. In July of 2019, Domino’s appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court when a blind man sued the company after he could not order a pizza on the Domino’s website or mobile app.

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