Federal Appellate Court Determines a Website Is Not a “Place of Public Accommodation” Under the ADA

On April 7, 2021, in a highly-anticipated decision, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a website does not qualify as a “place of public accommodation” under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The decision is an important victory for retailers and businesses in the Eleventh Circuit (which includes federal courts located in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama), that have faced an onslaught of website accessibility lawsuits in recent years. The decision also sets the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to potentially grant certiorari and finally provide much-needed clarity in cases involving ADA website accessibility.

The case, Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., was on appeal from the Southern District of Florida where it had been the first website accessibility case in the country to go to trial. In 2016, Juan Carlos Gil sued grocery store chain Winn-Dixie, claiming that its website violated the ADA because it was incompatible with “screen reader software” and was, therefore, inaccessible to visually impaired persons. Although Winn-Dixie did not make sales directly through its website, Mr. Gil—who is legally blind—claimed he could not refill prescriptions or apply coupons on the website.

After a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of Mr. Gil, finding that Winn-Dixie violated his rights under Title III of the ADA. The trial court ordered Winn-Dixie to make its website accessible to individuals with disabilities, which, according to Winn-Dixie, would cost approximately $250,000. As expected, website accessibility lawsuits against businesses proliferated after the verdict.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the trial court and held that, fundamentally, websites “are not a place of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA” and, therefore, Mr. Gil’s “inability to access and communicate with the website itself is not a violation of Title III.” The court’s reasoning was quite simple—Title III of the ADA describes twelve (12) types of locations that are “public accommodations,” all of which are tangible, physical spaces. A website, however, is an “intangible” space, so it cannot be considered a place of public accommodation under the ADA.

But the court did not stop there. It considered—and rejected—Mr. Gil’s argument that the website’s inaccessibility violated the ADA because it was an “intangible barrier” to his equal access to the services, privileges, and advantages of Winn-Dixie’s physical stores, which are places of public accommodation. Winn-Dixie’s website had limited functionality: the website did not function as a point of sale (i.e., all purchases had to occur at a physical store location) and all interactions with Winn-Dixie that could be initiated on the website had to be completed in-store (e.g., prescription pick-ups and coupon redemptions). Moreover, nothing prevented Mr. Gil from simply shopping at a physical Winn-Dixie store, refilling his prescriptions in-person, or using paper coupons at the store. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit held that Winn-Dixie’s website was not an “intangible barrier” to Mr. Gil’s full and equal enjoyment of Winn-Dixie’s services.

For the time being, this decision provides relief for businesses and retailers with a web presence in the Eleventh Circuit, but this is likely not the last word on the subject. By plainly holding that a website is not a place of public accommodation, the Gil decision further deepens the “circuit split” among courts around the country on this issue and tees up the issue for ultimate resolution by the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys for Mr. Gil expect to appeal the decision, and we will update this Client Alert if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear the case.

In addition, businesses should be mindful of other laws that may mandate website accessibility, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (“CCPA”), an extraterritorial, comprehensive privacy law requiring businesses subject to the CCPA to follow generally recognized industry standards for website accessibility, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (Version 2.1), and to provide information on how a consumer with a disability can access privacy notices in an alternative format.

If you have any questions about your company’s compliance with the ADA – on its website or otherwise – please contact Sarah Mullen, Taylor Essner and the attorneys at Lewis Rice LLC.

Firm Highlights
News

Jeremy P. Brummond Presents at Webinar for Experienced Construction Attorneys

More
Client Alert

The Changing Workplace Following the Latest CDC Mask Guidance

More
Client Alert

FTC Adds Teeth to the ‘Made in USA’ Rule

More
Client Alert

Missouri Supreme Court Holds that Public Governmental Bodies May Not Charge for Attorney Review Time

More
Diversity & Inclusion

Lewis Rice Launches “Next Level” Diversity and Inclusion Programs

More
News

Claims Filed for Compensation in North Carolina Ecusta Trail Rail-to-Trail Case

More
Client Alert

First-Issued Interim Final Rule Gives Guidance on No Surprises Act

More
News

Jeannine Moentmann Becomes President of St. Louis Paralegal Association for 2021-2022

More
Client Alert

DOL Publishes Cybersecurity Guidance for Benefits Plans

More
News

Michael D. Mulligan, Mysun Charitable Foundation Recognized at Greensfelder Park Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

More
Client Alert

EEOC Issues Updated Guidance on COVID Vaccination Policies

More
Client Alert

Supreme Court Hands Down Unanimous Decision Limiting FTC’s Ability to Seek Monetary Relief

More
News

A Lawyer’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast Named Among Best Copyright Law Podcasts for 2021 by Welp Magazine

More
Client Alert

Missouri Supreme Court Reverses Overtime Wages Judgment Resulting from Employer-Mandated Screenings Under the Portal-to-Portal Act

More
Client Alert

CROWN Act Legislation on the Verge of Passage in St. Louis City & County

More
Diversity & Inclusion

Law Firm ILN-telligence Podcast Hosts Ronald A. Norwood to Discuss Mentorship, Diversity & Inclusion in the Legal Industry, and the Importance of Equity for All

More
Client Alert

Supreme Court Limits Ability to Compel Access to Private Property Without Compensation

More
News

Lewis Rice Welcomes 2021 Summer Associates

More
Client Alert

The New Standard Contractual Clauses: Scope, Impact, and Next Steps

More
Client Alert

Colorado Joins the Bandwagon, Enacts Comprehensive Privacy Law

More