Food and beverage companies offering retail sales on the web are facing a wave of lawsuits filed by visually impaired plaintiffs alleging that the companies’ failure to design websites that work with adaptive screen-reading software violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Shook Partner Frank Cruz-Alvarez and Associate Rachel Canfield examine a recent ruling in the Southern District of Florida holding that a grocery chain violated Title III of the ADA because its website was inaccessible in “Because of ‘Winn-Dixie’?: Uncertainty over ADA’s Applicability to Websites Deepens,” The WLF Legal Pulse, July 11, 2017. In the article, Cruz-Alvarez and Canfield summarize Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, No. 16-23020 (S.D. Fla. June 12, 2017), and explain that federal courts are split on the issue of whether the ADA applies to non-physical spaces, leaving “a whole new host of legal challenges . . . There is very little structure, and even less clarity, in this emerging area of the law.”
In the interim, the authors say, businesses with operational websites should: familiarize themselves with the threshold requirements for sites that operate as gateways to brick-and-mortar stores; understand that the law is unclear about whether a website is a public accommodation and what obstacles are unduly burdensome; and recognize that it is still unclear which browsers and screen readers must be compatible with or accessible through the website.
Similar lawsuits have been filed against restaurant chains Five Guys, Eatsa, Taco Bell and Panera. In July 2017, two more such suits were filed: a class action against Brooklyn-based bakery chain Milk Bar (Matzura v. Milk Bar, No. 17-5030 (S.D.N.Y., complaint filed July 5, 2017)); and an individual suit against online food delivery service GrubHub (Reed v. GrubHub Holdings, No. 17-4946 (N.D. Ill., complaint filed June 30, 2017)).