In a recent decision by Judge William H. Orrick, the court reviewed a website for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and found that minor imperfections on a website that do not meaningfully hinder access to the business are insufficient to constitute ADA violations. Gomez v. Trinitas Cellars LLC, Case No. Case No. 3:21-cv-09006-WHO, Doc # 37 (N.D. Cal. June 17, 2022.
The ADA was passed into law in 1990, well before the popularization of the internet. Since then, of course, the internet has become an inescapable part of everyday life in America. The ADA, however, contains no mention of the internet. The closest it gets are generalized principles requiring businesses to provide “auxiliary aids and services” and ensure “effective communication.”
The Department of Justice, which is responsible for promulgating regulations under the ADA, has not yet formally outlined what exactly makes a website accessible. Many have turned to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to provide guidance. The WCAG standards, however, were published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a non-governmental nonprofit with no legal authority. But what does accessibility mean for a website?
In Gomez v. Trinitas Cellars, Andrew Gomez, a serial ADA plaintiff, sued Trinitas Cellars alleging that its website was not accessible. Gomez, like many serial ADA plaintiffs, had filed dozens of nearly identical lawsuits in the past. Trinitas Cellars filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the website was accessible. The court reviewed evidence and expert testimony from the parties and found that although the website was not 100% perfect and did contain some deviations from the WCAG standards, the website was usable by Gomez to access the goods and services of the Trinitas Cellars business.
Specifically, the court in Trinitas Cellars found that “the Trinitas logo at the top of all of the webpages is not readable by [screen reader software] SRS (it reads “slash link banner comma landmark”)…On these facts, this does not violate the ADA and does not show that there is any concrete injury…Gomez never explains how this could deny him full use or equal enjoyment or deter him from visiting again…This website banner just states the name of the business..” Id. at p. 3-4.
Similarly, the court found that the social medial logos were not readable by screen reading software, but “whether Gomez could or could not know that there was a link on the website to social media pages matters nothing whatever to his ability to fully access Trinitas’ location and complete range of services.” Id. at p. 4. In other words, minor technical deviations from the WCAG standards do not create an actionable violation of the ADA without showing specifically how those deviations create actual barriers to accessing the business itself.
For help with an ADA website claim, please contact the author of this article, Stuart Tubis.