Recently Thomas Dorobiala, through his law firm Apex Trial Law, has been sending a large number of complaint letters to various types of businesses alleging that the business’ website fails to comply with the California Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Specifically, the letter states that Mr. Dorobiala is hearing impaired and “unable to fully access your website because the website is not fully accessible to the hearing-impaired.” Generally, the letter will reference a video available on the website and the lack of closed captions available for that video. The letter is usually signed by Ryan M. Ferrell, Esq. or Thomas W. Kohler, Esq.
The Department of Justice has not yet clarified exactly what a website requires to be compliant with the law. The WCAG 2.1 AA standards were published by the nongovernmental W3C organization and are not legally binding. However, many businesses and some courts refer to them to help determine if features on a website are accessible. Generally, websites should be coded so that they are compatible for screen reading software, which blind users will use to listen to the website’s content. Hearing impaired users often seek closed captioning for video content. For more on website accessibility, see our blog here or the W3C introduction to WCAG standards here.
Because such a large number of these complaint letters have been sent to businesses of all types, it is important to first determine whether the claims have merit. For example, if the video file is hosted by Youtube or a similar platform, closed captioning might already be available. If the business does not offer any goods or services to the public and is purely a business to business entity, the claimant might lack standing to bring the claims. A demurrer motion or motion to dismiss for lack of standing can be successful.
Additionally, websites do not need to perfectly conform to the nongovernmental WCAG standards in order to comply with the Unruh Act and ADA. See our recent article The ADA Does Not Require Website Accessibility Perfection. In Gomez v. Trinitas Cellars LLC, the court held that minor imperfections on a website that do not meaningfully hinder access to the goods and services of a business are insufficient to constitute violations of law.
In any event, if you have received this letter, you should contact experienced defense counsel to represent you and reach out to Apex Trial Law before litigation is filed, which increases the costs and risks for all parties involved.