Food and beverage companies offering retail sales on the web are facing a wave of lawsuits filed by visually impaired plaintiffs alleging that the companies’ failure to design websites that work with adaptive screen-reading software violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In “Because of ‘Winn-Dixie’?: Uncertainty over ADA’s Applicability to Websites Deepens,” Shook Partner Frank Cruz-Alvarez and Associate Rachel Canfield examine a recent ruling in the Southern District of Florida holding that a grocery chain violated Title III of the ADA because its website was inaccessible. Cruz-Alvarez and Canfield summarize Gil v. WinnDixie Stores, No. 16-23020 (S.D. Fla. June 12, 2017), and explain that federal courts are split on the issue of whether the ADA applies to non-physical spaces, leaving “a whole new host of legal challenges. . . . There is very little structure, and even less clarity, in this emerging area of the law.”
In the interim, the authors say, businesses with operational websites should (i) familiarize themselves with the threshold requirements for sites that operate as gateways to brick-andmortar stores; (ii) understand that the law is unclear about whether a website is a public accommodation and what obstacles are unduly burdensome; and (iii) recognize that it is still unclear which browsers and screen readers must be compatible with or accessible through the website.
A number of restaurant chains have faced similar lawsuits, including Five Guys, Eatsa, Taco Bell and Panera; additional details appear in Issues 602, 611, 629 and 635 of this Update. In addition, two more suits have been filed: a putative class action against bakery chain Milk Bar (Matzura v. Milk Bar, No. 17-5030 (S.D.N.Y., filed July 5, 2017)) and an individual suit against online food delivery service GrubHub (Reed v. GrubHub Holdings, No. 17-4946 (N.D. Ill., filed June 30, 2017))