Wednesday, May 02, 2007

ADA Claims Against Web Site Operator -- Certified Class is Narrowly Defined

One of our recent Hot Topics presentations at the Spring Business Law Section Meeting in D.C. concerned the question of whether, and to what extent, a Web site operator is subject to the rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act. A suit against Target Corporation alleged that its target.com Web site did not meet the ADA's requirements to make it accessible to blind persons, and sought class action status for all blind persons in the USA.

A few months back, the judge had already cut back on the breadth of the suit, saying that there was no ADA protection available where the claims were purely related to the Web site. She did allow that claims which could be construed as how the inaccessible Web site impeded a blind person from accessing a physical retail outlet might go forward.

In her most recent action on April 25, the judge noted that the class that would be certified for this suit would be "All legally blind individuals in the United States who have attempted to access Target.com and as a result have been denied access to the enjoyment of goods and services offered in Target stores."

She then followed up with the real kicker -- Apparently the judge was quite concerned that none of the original declarants (the named plaintiffs who represent the class) would be eligible to join the class under this new narrower definition.

Judge Patel allowed that the plaintiffs might still be able to provide declarations to meet the test, or a different named representative, so the suit goes forward with the condition that the plaintiffs' lawyers must come up with at least one named plaintiff who can actually be a part of the class. Nat'l Fed'n of the Blind v. Target Corp., N.D.Cal., No. C 06-01802, 4/25/07)

For the moment, the ADA-specific concerns for Web operators are still rather remote. How site operators might operate in practice is of course a different topic, but for now one better left for those trained in ethics, mores and cost-benefit ratios. (Which is not to say that lawyers should be avoiding those topics in forming their advice.)

2 comments:

Kevin said...

Please tell me what the solution is for blind people to access web sites such as target.com??

Michael Fleming said...

Kevin:

I can't say that I know an answer to your question. I can note that the case under discussion above remains alive in federal court. So, the story continues to develop.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119141557627247599.html

"A federal judge in California has granted class-action status to a lawsuit against Target Corp. charging that the discount retailer's site is inaccessible to blind shoppers. The lawsuit already appears to have prodded Target into making improvements to its site, and industry experts say legal challenges have proved to be an effective way for blind advocates to alert Web builders about problems with Internet access."