In today’s connected world, companies rely heavily on their websites and mobile applications to reach consumers. There have been a number of lawsuits filed alleging companies’ websites and mobile applications are inaccessible to the visually impaired in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). As we last discussed, a federal court found Winn-Dixie had violated Title III of the ADA.
Since then, a number of companies, including McDonald’s and Kmart have settled ADA lawsuits regarding their websites and mobile applications. Still, many others faced similar ADA complaints – among them Domino’s. In Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC, the plaintiff, a blind man, alleged that Domino’s website and mobile application were designed in a manner that could not be read by his screen-reading software that vocalizes visual information on websites. Domino’s was granted a dismissal by the US District Court for the Central District of California. While the district court first held Title III of the ADA did in fact apply to Domino’s—emphasizing the law’s requirement to provide auxiliary aids, examples of which include “screen reader software,” so as to not exclude individuals from disabilities from ordering from Domino’s physical stores that are “places of public accommodation”—the court then held that applying the ADA to Domino’s websites and mobile app would violate its due process rights pointing to the failure of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to provide “a final rule on web access.”
However, on January 15, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the district dourt’s finding. The Ninth Circuit first affirmed the district court’s finding that the ADA applies to Domino’s, with Judge John Owens writing:
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. This requirement applies to Domino’s website and app, even though customers predominantly access them away from the physical restaurant… The alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises—which are places of public accommodation. Customers use the website and app to locate a nearby Domino’s restaurant and order pizzas for at-home delivery or in-store pickup. This nexus between Domino’s website and app and physical restaurants—which Domino’s does not contest—is critical to our analysis.
The Ninth Circuit then reversed the district court’s due process violation decision, finding that Domino’s had in fact received “fair notice that its website and app must comply with the ADA” because the ADA has been clear since its enactment in 1990 that entities like Domino’s must provide full and equal access to goods and services to people with disabilities, and DOJ regulations since 1996 have reaffirmed that these protections extend to websites. The Ninth Circuit found that specific guidelines for website and app accessibility were not required; rather, “the Constitution only requires that Domino’s receive fair notice of its legal duties, not a blueprint for compliance with its statutory obligations.”
With questions around the applicability of the ADA to Domino’s website and app resolved, the Ninth Circuit remitted the case back to the district court for a determination as to whether Domino’s website and application comply with the ADA.