In previous blog posts, we have discussed the importance for businesses to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If they do not make their businesses accessible, they face the risk of lawsuits from both consumers and employees. However, a landmark case here in California may have just increased the risk that all businesses could face.

Appellate court rules websites are public accommodations

In 2019, the Second District Court of Appeal in California ruled that business websites are also subject to the standards and accommodations established by the ADA. Essentially, since websites are open to the public, they must also be accessible to the public.

This ruling resulted from the case of Thurston v. Midvale Corp. Cheryl Thurston, who is blind, could not access the website of The Whisper Restaurant and Lounge with her screen reader technology. She claimed that the website was not compatible with the technology so she filed a lawsuit against the restaurant – not under the ADA, but under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act.

The restaurant, owned by Midvale Corp., argued that the website was not subject to the regulations because the Unruh Civil Rights Act provides equal rights for all in “business establishments.” However, the Court ruled that the website was, in fact, “a part” of the business establishment.

This ruling could lead to many more lawsuits in the near future

This case could set a precedent and open the door for many other lawsuits regarding accessibility to business’s websites. However, businesses can be proactive to prevent such lawsuits by:

  • Reviewing the features of their websites carefully;
  • Ensuring websites are compatible with many technologies, including screen readers; and
  • Creating standards and best practices for the business and employees to follow to ensure accessibility.

Generally, it is also helpful for business owners to review the regulations set forth by the ADA and the Unruh Civil Rights Act to make sure their business remains in compliance.