Lawsuits

Winn-Dixie Case: The First Digital Accessibility Lawsuit

Winn-Dixie Case: The First Digital Accessibility Lawsuit
Winn-Dixie Case: The First Digital Accessibility Lawsuit

While there have been number of cases that have been brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to challenge with regards to website accessibility, the Winn-Dixie case is the very first one to go to trial and this is quite different from other lawsuits of the same nature.

A Brief Summary of the Winn-Dixie Case

In you’re not aware of this case,  the court in the Winn-Dixie decision found that the American supermarket chain violated title 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it did not provide full and equal enjoyment to individuals with disabilities because its website was inaccessible and its website was linked directly to its brick-and-mortar retail stores.

As a result of that, the court ordered that Winn-Dixie brand’s website into compliance to WCAG 2.0 guidelines required them to adopt a website accessibility policy, to train on that policy to conduct regular ongoing compliance audits and to pay a yet to be determined amount of attorney’s fees and expert’s cost.

Court decision on the Winn-Dixie case
Court decision on the Winn-Dixie case

Testimonies

In reaching its decision, the district court relied heavily upon the testimony of two individuals:

  1. The first was a senior Winn-Dixie executive who conceded that he was aware from a prior job that website accessibility was a concept they should be considering and indeed they had budgeted over a quarter of a million dollars to look at website accessibility in future years. Additionally, he was forced to admit that in the preceding two years, Winn-Dixie had spent over $9 million enhancing its website but it spent none of that money on website accessibility.
  2. The second person that the court relied heavily upon was an accessibility specialist that the plaintiff brought forth in this matter. He testified that contrary to win Dixie’s position, it was not going to take a serious amount of time money or resources to bring the website into accessible compliance.

The Striking Aspects

There are two aspects to the Winn-Dixie holding that were particularly striking. The first was just how little the court required to establish a nexus between the website and the brick-and-mortar stores in this case. You cannot even purchase goods from a Winn-Dixie store on their website. All you could do was identify store locations, find coupons and upload those coupons to your discount cards to bring them into the store. Nevertheless, the court found this was sufficient for a nexus to apply.

Second, the court expanded the obligations for accessibility well beyond what most settlement agreements have found to date requiring that Winn-Dixie make third-party avenues of its website accessible as well. This did not just apply to advertisers that might have a contract with Winn-Dixie but also detect giants like Google where Winn-Dixie clearly had no control over their applications.

What Can We Learn From This Case?

On the basis of this decision, it’s safe to say that if you’re a business with a brick-and-mortar location tied to your website, it is in your best interest to take your time, your money and your resources, and focus them on prophylactic measures.

Conduct a website accessibility, audit adopt a website accessibility policy, train on that policy and stay ahead of the curve and that way, you can do your best to devoid being the next defendant in a website accessibility litigation.

Making your website accessible
Making your website accessible

While this is the very first verdict in a website accessibility matter under the ADA, the biggest value this case brings is really to serve as a rallying cry for the plaintiff’s bar. Taking this verdict along with recent decisions calling into question the viability of certain jurisdictional defenses for places of business, the plaintiff’s bar now has even more carte blanche permission to go forward launching more and more website accessibility matters.

Given that the Trump’s previous administration has declared that it is adverse to new regulations without first removing current existing regulations, the idea that we are going to see a regulatory fix in the idea of private website accessibility regulations in the near future is looking unlikely although there’s a possibility for a change in policies under president-elect Joe Biden’s administration. Therefore, we think we are going to see on the basis of this decision even more website accessibility litigation that we’d already seen in the last three years and the thing is, that’s already been a lot.

About the author

David Cote

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