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By: Lily Crespo Esq.
Quick takeaway: The Eleventh Circuit’s much-anticipated decision in Gil v. Winn Dixie sets a higher bar for plaintiffs in website accessibility lawsuits and creates a conflict among judicial circuits that will probably result in Supreme Court review.
What happened? Plaintiff Gil, who is blind, sued grocery retailer Winn Dixie alleging that the business violated the ADA by having a website that he could not access using screen reader software. He claimed that he wanted to use the website to order prescriptions which he would pick up at the store. He later also claimed that he wanted to download online coupons onto his rewards card for use at the store. After a bench trial, the district court concluded that the website was not accessible to screen reader users and that Winn Dixie had violated the ADA. The district court found that it did not need to decide whether websites are covered by the ADA because, in this case, the website was “heavily integrated” with Winn Dixie’s physical stores (which are undoubtedly public accommodations) and acted as a “gateway” to them. The court issued a detailed injunctive relief order which, among other things, required Winn Dixie to make its website conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guideline 2.0 Level AA – a privately developed set of criteria for web accessibility that has not been adopted as a legal standard under the ADA for public accommodations websites.
What did the court say? The lower court found Winn-Dixie’s website violated the ADA. The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded, concluding that the websites are not places of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA because, pursuant to the language of Title III, public accommodations are limited to actual, physical places; and Winn-Dixie’s limited use website, although inaccessible by individuals who are visually disabled, does not function as an intangible barrier to an individual with a visual disability accessing the goods, services, privileges, or advantages of Winn-Dixie’s physical stores (the operative place of public accommodation).
What does the decision mean?
As you consider these and other issues, we recommend you speak with your school lawyer or contact Bea, Kevin, Megan, Beth, and Lily by email or at 406-542-1300 to discuss these issues.