How technology has changed ADA lawsuits

Michael Landen (1)Each week, large companies across the country often find themselves facing lawsuits for alleged violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), particularly when it comes to wheelchair ramps and accessible parking. However, companies need to be aware that they could soon become the target for a new type lawsuit under the ADA…claims that their website is not compliant with the law by being inaccessible to the visually impaired.

ADA litigation related to website accessibility has surged in recent years. In the first six months of last year alone 1,053 such lawsuits were filed nationwide and increase from 814 cases in all of 2017.

The ADA protects the rights of the physically impaired to receive services at the same level and quality as everyone else. Given that many online services can be treated as “public accommodations,” entities that provide extra services on their website are the largest targets for these claims. Businesses in the retail and hospitality industries are particularly vulnerable for becoming a target for this type of lawsuit. As such, businesses should make sure that their websites conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 standards and minimalize impaired people’s limitations to having full access to the site.

It is important for all businesses to consider how to reduce their potential liability. While complying with the WCAG 2.1 is not a complete shield against ADA lawsuits, it should be every business’s first step in reducing its liability exposure.

As we begin the new year, Florida’s Eleventh Circuit is expected to rule on a decision that may open the floodgates for lawsuits over website accessibility. Last October, the federal appeals court heard arguments in Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. appeal of a June 2017. The decision concluded that blind plaintiff Juan Carlos Gil has alleged the incompatibility of Winn-Dixie’s website with standard screen reader software, thus denying him the full and equal access of what the company offers to sighted customers.

Businesses need to be constantly aware that ADA-related litigation is continually expanding into digital territory as technology becomes more necessary in our day-to-day lives. Being proactive and taking steps to limit exposure could prevent you from becoming the latest target for this kind of lawsuit.

The Americans with Disabilities Act opened doors

July 26 marked the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark law passed in 1990 that for the first time in our history created nationwide standards for combating discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, telecommunications relay services and government activities.

The Act has led to a number of significant legal decisions, which have helped to balance the rights and responsibilities of workers with disabilities and their employers. For example, the ADA requires owners of stores, restaurants and other public locations to provide access to people with disabilities — this is something we often take for granted.

As a labor and employment attorney, I often deal with cases involving the ADA. It is imperative that employers understand the law and the consequences of noncompliance.

Despite the ADA creating a benchmark for employers, it also created a strong foundation for lawmakers to build on and provide even broader protections for disabled workers. For example, President George W. Bush amended the law in 2008 and more recently, President Obama signed an executive order, requiring the federal government to hire 100,000 new employees with disabilities by 2015.

The ADA, like many other laws designed to combat discrimination, is successfully furthering the cause for equality among all people. With about 20 percent of the labor force made up of people with disabilities, everyone should take a moment to reflect on the importance of this law and be cognizant of its impact on our workforce in places of public accommodation, and how it has improved the quality of life for millions of Americans.

Michael Landen, Miami

The letter was published by the Miami Herald.


Obesity as a Disability: What Does This Mean for Employers?

By Michael T. Landen

According to the CDC, over one-third of American adults are obese.  As a result, it is not surprising that employers nationwide are seeing a rise in lawsuits and claims by obese employees who invoke the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), claiming that their employers failed to provide reasonable accommodations for their “disability” in the workplace.

So, this begs the question: is obesity a disability?  It appears that the answer is shifting toward yes.

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