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Court Allows Class Action Alleging ADA Violation Because of Inaccessible Website



West v. Docusign, Inc., 2019 WL 3843054 (W.D. Pa. 2019)

A federal trial court has allowed a class action lawsuit to proceed against a financial services company because its website allegedly did not comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The case was brought by a visually impaired individual who was unable to utilize the company’s website due to her disability. She argued that, by denying her equal access to its website, the company violated the rights guaranteed to her under Title III of the ADA. The company asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the website was not a “place of public accommodation” subject to Title III. The court disagreed, however, finding that the website is property owned, operated, and controlled by the company, through which it offers products and services to the public. The company stated that it had done all it could do to improve the website to make it less difficult for visually impaired persons to use. But because the individual alleged that she was nevertheless unable to access the website’s content, the court allowed the lawsuit to proceed.

EBIA Comment: The ADA’s application to websites and mobile apps is an emerging area of concern for plan administrators. Traditionally, lawsuits alleging violations of Title III of the ADA have focused on access to places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants. But the ADA also applies to most employers through Title I, which requires them to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities (such as changes in the work environment to help these employees perform job duties or enjoy benefits and privileges of employment) unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense. Employers that use websites for benefit-related disclosures should monitor developments and consider proactive steps to ensure availability to all employees. For more information, see EBIA’s Cafeteria Plans manual at Section XVI.E (“Electronic Administration”), EBIA’s Consumer-Driven Health Care manual at Section XXV.I (“Electronic Administration of HRAs”), and EBIA’s Group Health Plan Mandates manual at Section XX.A (“What Is the ADA and Who Must Comply?”).

Contributing Editors: EBIA Staff.

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