Looking at Hooters: Restaurant Chain's Unlikely Foray into Website Accessibility
If you or your company conducts business in whole or in part using a website, there is a federal law you must comply with to avoid potentially costly litigation. In this regard, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which renders decisions that are binding in Florida, Georgia and Alabama) recently decided a case involving the Americans with Disabilities Act, (“ADA”), accessibility requirements for websites. The case is part of an increasing number of ADA lawsuits being initiated against businesses with non-accessible websites.
Dennis Haynes v. Hooters of America, LLC (http://media.ca11.uscourts.gov/opinions/pub/files/201713170.pdf) was decided on June 19, 2018. Mr. Haynes, the plaintiff in the trial court, appealed the dismissal of his case based upon a finding that his claims were moot. Mr. Haynes is blind and, as such, is disabled within the meaning of the ADA. He uses Screen Reader Software, specifically, JAWS Screen Reader Software to navigate and read websites. Hooters operates a website that was not compatible with the JAWS software Mr. Haynes used.
Before Mr. Haynes filed his lawsuit, another plaintiff had sued Hooters in a nearly identical website accessibility case which was settled between the parties. As part of the settlement, Hooters agreed to improve access on its website within 12 months to conform with the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 web access standard which you can find using the following link: https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/. Because Hooters settled the earlier litigation by agreeing to bring its website up to the standard, it convinced the trial court that Mr. Haynes’ case was therefore moot. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed because, among other things, Mr. Haynes was not a party to the settlement and would have no rights to enforce the terms of that agreement if Hooters later violated or otherwise failed to fully comply with the agreement.
The Haynes case illustrates the need for any person or business using a website to ensure the website is accessible pursuant to ADA requirements. Failure to do so can subject your business to costly federal litigation that potentially includes the recovery of attorney’s fees and costs.
If you have questions about the ADA or any other labor or employment issue, please do not hesitate to call our office and to ask for Jon Stage at 561.810.1600.