Question & Answer Employer Guide: Return to Work in the Time of COVID-19

As government authorities look to implement business reopening measures, employers are now planning to move employees back into the workplace as state and local stay-at-home orders expire and other COVID-19 business restrictions expire or are modified. What are the various considerations employers must keep in mind when reopening their physical work locations?

This Question and Answer Guide describes a number of COVID-19 employment and return-to-work considerations. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is a fluid situation and highly dependent on jurisdiction- and sector-specific considerations, we anticipate that additional guidance will be coming from the federal, state and local governments as plans to allow businesses to open are developed in the coming days and weeks.

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Ninth Circuit Rejects Due Process and Primary Jurisdiction Arguments in ADA Website Accessibility Case

In Robles v. Domino’s Pizza LLC, No. 17-55504 (9th Cir. Jan. 15, 2019), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s ADA claim pursuant to the primary jurisdiction doctrine due to the lack of website accessibility regulations from the Department of Justice. In doing so, the Court issued three important rulings.

First, to the extent there was any doubt, the Court held that the ADA applies to websites of places of public accommodations if there is a sufficient nexus between the website and a physical brick and mortar location. Second, the Court held that applying the ADA to websites does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process merely because DOJ has not implemented specific regulations setting forth a technical standard for website accessibility. Third, the Court held that the district court erred in dismissing the case under the primary jurisdiction doctrine because DOJ has expressed no interest in promulgating regulations governing website accessibility and, therefore, deferring to the DOJ would delay the resolution of the plaintiff’s claims.

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The 11th Circuit Holds Prior Settlement in Website Access Case Does Not Moot Identical Second Lawsuit Seeking the Same Injunctive Relief

Retailers and other companies have been besieged by lawsuits alleging that their websites are not accessible to visually impaired users in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and similar state laws. Some companies have been sued multiple times by different plaintiffs represented by different lawyers, even though the companies had previously agreed in earlier settlements to ensure that their websites are accessible to the visually impaired.

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Congress Attempts to Offer Relief to Businesses Faced with ADA Access Lawsuits

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires “places of public accommodation,” such as retail businesses and restaurants, to be accessible to persons with disabilities. Common architectural features that permit access include handicap parking, curb cuts, wheelchair ramps and other design modifications. The ADA provides a private right of action to force a non-compliant establishment to make the necessary physical alterations to allow access. If the lawsuit is successful, the ADA provides for reasonable attorneys’ fees—a prospect that has fueled the proliferation of ADA lawsuits.

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Florida Federal Court Rules That Winn-Dixie’s Website Violated the ADA

Retailers throughout the country have been besieged by lawsuits and demand letters alleging that their websites are not accessible to the visually impaired and that this lack of accessibility violates Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The plaintiffs’ bar, without definitive guidance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the courts, has assumed that retail websites are “places of a public accommodation” under the ADA and that the appropriate compliance level should be the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 A or AA.
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Careful, Your Website is Showing! Retailers Should Start Preparing for Website Accessibility Class Actions

Retailers have been the predominant targets of a recent wave of demand letters claiming that their websites and mobile applications unlawfully discriminate against disabled customers. These demands come on the heels of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) confirmation that, in 2018, it will propose accessibility standards for private businesses, based on the accessibility standards it has already proposed for public entities. Even with two months left in the year, 2016 has already seen more single-plaintiff and class action lawsuits actually filed against retailers on this issue than ever before. In the face of an increasingly active plaintiffs’ bar, any retailer with a commercial website or mobile application—especially those operating in California, New York, or Pennsylvania, where the majority of these suits have been filed—should take notice and prepare accordingly.

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