Yesterday, a California Court of Appeal found that Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) equal access standards for public accommodations can apply to websites, at least when there is a strong enough link between the website and accessing the business’s physical location, goods, or services. The decision in Martinez v. San Diego County Credit Union serves as a reminder to carefully review business websites to avoid potential liability under the ADA or parallel California laws.
In Martinez, the visually impaired plaintiff sued a credit union for maintaining a website that made using his screen reading software more difficult than if the website met non-binding standards for access by the visually impaired. The plaintiff asserted a violation of California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act, which the court explained makes any violation of the ADA actionable under state law. The credit union successfully dismissed the case, arguing that its website was not a “place of public accommodation” so was not subject to ADA accessibility standards.
The court disagreed. Under the specific facts of the case, there was a close enough “nexus” between a customer using the website and accessing a defendant’s physical location that ADA accessibility standards applied. The court relied on the website’s store locator and information about the credit union’s services to assert that it could be easier for sighted customers to find branches and access services at the physical locations. While the court held that the complaint stated a potential claim for violation of ADA standards, it did not opine whether the website violated the law by denying visually impaired persons equal access or whether there were applicable defenses.
What Businesses Should Know
If your website has any connection to a physical location, goods, or service it should be carefully reviewed for ADA compliance. Each case is highly fact-specific, but website features like a store locator, online ordering for in-store pickup, and advance reservations cannot be overlooked. Contact your Payne & Fears attorney if you have any concerns about whether your website is ADA compliant.