A Blind Man Couldn’t Order Pizza From Domino’s. The Company Wants The Supreme Court To Say Websites Don’t Have To Be Accessible
Tucker HigginsOctober 2019
Guillermo Robles, who is blind, has tried to order a custom pizza from Domino’s at least twice in recent years, using the company’s website and mobile app.
He says despite using screen reading software, he wasn’t able to order the food, because the website is not accessible to blind people.
So three years ago, Robles filed a lawsuit against the company. He alleged that the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 law that requires businesses to make accommodations for those with disabilities, applied to the websites and apps of businesses with physical locations. A federal appeals court agreed. Now, the Supreme Court may weigh in.
Robles is one of an increasing number of Americans with disabilities who are bringing lawsuits under the ADA against businesses they say are discriminating against them by not providing accessible websites.
Businesses, including Domino’s, say the lawsuits are a nuisance, and argue that the federal government has not yet put out rules governing how to make their web platforms ADA compliant. But disabled groups and individuals argue that clear international standards exist, and companies must follow them or find another way to make their sites accessible.
Domino’s has petitioned the Supreme Court to hear Robles’ case, where it could prove to be a landmark battle over the rights of disabled people on the internet.
“If businesses are allowed to say, ‘We do not have to make our websites accessible to blind people,’ that would be shutting blind people out of the economy in the 21st century,” said Christopher Danielsen, a representative for the National Federation of the Blind.
The number of lawsuits over inaccessible websites has exploded recently. Last year, more than 2,200 such suits were filed in federal courts, according to the accessible technology firm UsableNet, up from just 814 in 2017.
In its petition with the top court, Domino’s wrote that leaving in place the lower court ruling for Robles would “turn that flood of litigation into a tsunami.”
Not great for defendants
Experts point to different causes for the increase in litigation.
One potential cause: In 2017, the Department of Justice said it would not be putting out regulations on the matter, reversing a 2010 announcement that such rules were forthcoming.
Scott Topolski, an attorney at the law firm Cole Schotz who represents businesses in ADA cases, said another cause may be the 2017 decision in the case Gil v. Winn Dixie Stores. In that case, the federal court in Miami held that the grocery chain’s website was required to be accessible.
“That probably emboldened attorneys, certainly here in Florida and probably throughout the country,” Topolski said. “The landscape so far hasn’t been great for defendants and defense attorneys.”
The suits so far have primarily hit those in the retail, food service and travel industries, according to UsableNet. A vast majority of the suits are filed by just 10 attorneys, the group found.
Business groups are lining up behind Domino’s. So far, the Chamber of Commerce, the Restaurant Law Center and the National Retail Federation have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the pizza company.
In its filing with the top court, the Chamber of Commerce wrote that the Justice Department has provided only “inconsistent, nonbinding, and unaccountable” rules for when and how websites must be accessible to those with disabilities.
“The current and worsening uncertainty favors no one, except perhaps the small class of plaintiffs’ firms that have driven this litigation,” attorney Gregory Garre wrote on behalf of the group.
‘Why not innovate and take our money?’
But Danielsen said the Justice Department’s decision not to implement standard rules leaves room for businesses to develop new tools for accessibility.
“Now we are in a situation where businesses should be happy, because although there are web accessibility standards out there, and courts have found them useful, companies have some flexibility and space to innovate,” he said.
“There is a ton of space for innovation in this area,” he added. “Rather than refusing to take the money of those of us with disabilities, why not innovate and take our money?”
Joseph Manning, Robles’ attorney, declined to comment on the case while it’s pending. He was due to file a response by Aug. 14. The Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case, Domino’s Pizza v. Guillermo Robles, when the justices return from their summer recess in the fall.