Supreme Court Clears Way for the Blind to Sue Retailers Over Inaccessible Websites

October 10, 2019 by Dan McCue
A line of spectators lines up outside the U.S. Supreme Court on the first day of its 2019-2020 term. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court this week turned down appeal of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, effectively clearing the way for blind and vision-impaired individuals to sue retailers if their websites are not accessible.

The 9th Circuit had ruled in a case involving Domino’s Pizza that the Americans With Disabilities Act not only mandates that restaurants and stores be accessible to people with disabilities, but that these businesses websites and apps also must be clear of barriers to use.

Guillermo Robles, who is blind, sued Domino’s three years ago after he attempted to order a pizza online and found the merchant’s website lacked software that would have allowed him to complete the order.

Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act states that “no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation.”

 It goes on to define public accommodations to include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, as well as stores, care providers, and places of public displays.

Robles claimed the lack of software to make Domino’s website accessible to him and other blind people violated Title VII.

Attorney for Domino’s agreed the provision applied to its carry out pizza stores, but not to the company’s website.

But in its ruling last year, the 9th Circuit said “the ADA mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino’s, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind.”

Domino’s petitioned the Supreme Court, asking it to review the decision, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups joined the appeal, saying they feared a “tsunami of litigation” if the 9th Circuit’s ruling were allowed to stand.

Several organizations and businesses also argued that the 9th Circuit ruling unlawfully imposed a nationwide website accessibility mandate” — something they contended only Congress could do.

As is often their custom, the justices did not explain why they did not take up the case.

As a result of the Supreme Court failing to get involved, the 9th Circuit sent the case back to the trial judge in Los Angeles to decide whether Robles suffered discrimination.

“Although Domino’s is disappointed that the Supreme Court will not review this case, we look forward to presenting our case at the trial court,” Domino’s said in a statement posted on its website. “We also remain steadfast in our belief in the need for federal standards for everyone to follow in making their websites and mobile apps accessible.”

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