In the case of Frazier v. AmeriServ Financial Bank, # 17cv0031, 2017 federal district judge Arthur J. Schwab ruled that Title III of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, applies to AmeriServ Bank’s website.

Key Points and Quotes

In this case, plaintiffs Lisa Frazier, Access Now, Inc.and R. David New alleged that they are or represent blind or visually impaired individuals, that AmeriServ’s website was not designed to be accessible to blind or visually impaired persons, and therefore that AmeriServ violated Title III of the ADA which prohibits discrimination by public accommodations on the basis of disability.

“The two affidavits filed by AmeriServ in support of its 12(b)(1) Motion do not deny, rebuff, or otherwise disagree with the Complaint’s statement alleging that AmeriServ’s website contains barriers preventing Plaintiffs’ software from reading the public content on the AmeriServ website.”

AmeriServ brought a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the case, arguing that “a website is not a ‘place of public accommodation’ under Title III of the ADA.

Judge Schwab rejected AmeriServ’s argument:

“This Court also finds that the allegations set forth in Plaintiff’s Complaint establish that the alleged discrimination – Plaintiffs’ inability to access financial services information – took place at a property that AmeriServ owns, operates, and controls [the AmeriServ website].”

This court decision is significant in that this particular federal district court has dozens of similar ADA cases involving blind or visually impaired plaintiffs alleging that inaccessible websites violate Title III of the ADA.

Although this is a significant court decision, and was a victory for the plaintiffs, the court did not appear to address the argument that resulted in a win for the defendant in the case of Robles v. Dominos Pizza. Dominos, the defendant,was not liable for an ADA Title III violation due to an allegedly “inaccessible” website as there is no clear or established standard as to what technical accessibility standard applies.

Takeaways

  • Plaintiffs and plaintiff firms may be emboldened by the federal court decision in Frazier v. AmeriServ and expand lawsuits and demands.
  • In light of a shifting legal landscape, website owners and operators may wish to take proactive and risk-reduction measures to improve the accessibility of their website and adopt appropriate policies, even if such actions may not be clearly required by law.

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