The landscape remains murky as to whether and how Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites. As the financial services industry moves increasingly and inexorably from a “bricks and mortar” presence to a virtual environment, these issues are likely to only become more prominent. With differing authority from courts across the U.S. and minimal guidance from the Department of Justice and financial services regulators, financial services companies, particularly fintechs, must navigate these thorny issues to best mitigate risk and serve their customers.
A recent example is Domino’s Pizza’s petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court. The Ninth Circuit held that the ADA applied to Domino’s website and app because the ADA mandates that places of public accommodation, such as Domino’s, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind. Even though customers primarily accessed the website and app away from Domino’s physical restaurants, the court stated that the ADA applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation. According to the Ninth Circuit, Domino’s website and mobile application “connect customers to the goods and services of Domino’s physical restaurants,” which are places of public accommodation. The court reasoned that there was a sufficient “nexus” between the website and app and its restaurants since customers could use the website and app to locate a nearby store and order pizzas for delivery or in-store pick-up. Given that nexus, the ADA applied to the website and app.
The question presented in the petition for certiorari was: “Does Title III of the ADA require a website or mobile phone application that offers goods or services to the public to satisfy discrete accessibility requirements with respect to individuals with disabilities?” Domino’s urged the Supreme Court to grant certiorari to “stem a burdensome litigation epidemic.” The recent increase in litigation relating to ADA website compliance is fueled in part by the cross- jurisdictional uncertainty. Specifically, there is a split in the federal Court of Appeals over whether Title III imposes accessibility requirements on web-only businesses with no fixed location, as well as confusion over whether Title III imposes discrete accessibility requirements on websites maintained by businesses whose brick-and-mortar locations constitute ADA-covered public accommodations.
This cert denial may cause businesses to more carefully evaluate website accessibility concerns. However, even careful evaluation may result in an uptick in litigation due to the lack of clear federal standards for accessibility of websites and mobile apps. We will continue to report developments in this area.