The 11th Circuit in Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., 17-13467 (11th Cir. April 7, 2021), considered whether a website was a public place requiring accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Title III of the ADA, enacted in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including those who are blind and vision impaired, in places of public accommodation. Here is the critical part of the statute:
“No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to) or operates a place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a).
The ADA does not provide civil penalties for violations of the ADA. But as you know it allows individuals to bring enforcement actions, seek injunctive relief, and recover costs and attorney's fees. 42 U.S.C. § 12188. Of course, when the ADA was passed over 30 years ago, websites were not widespread. Now websites often are found to be online stores. With Covid, the internet and websites have become critical principal places of business.
The Third, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits had previously interpreted the ADA very narrowly to construe a place of public accommodation to require some nexus to a physical location. The First Second and Seventh Circuits found that a website does constitute a place of public accommodation without requiring a nexus to a physical location. The 11th Circuit landed more on the first interpretation but went so far as to reject any nexus standard.
In arriving at that decision the Court specifically looked at the “expansive list of physical locations” and of course website is not on the list. The court also noted that Winn-Dixie had physical stores and that no goods or services could actually be purchased on the website and that interactions on the website still required completion of the task at a store, such as prescription pickups, and redemption of coupons.
The matter is not entirely over however as the plaintiff has filed a petition for rehearing en banc. And of course, given the circuit split, the Supreme Court may be weighing in at some point. So how is your website? Even if the law in our “neck of the woods” does not require public accommodation, what is the right thing for those of us working on the plaintiff side to do?