On April 7, 2021, the Eleventh Circuit issued its long-awaited opinion in Gil v. Winn Dixie, holding that websites are not places of public accommodation under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In Gil, the district court held that Winn Dixie’s website was inaccessible in violation of the ADA due to the incompatibility of Winn Dixie’s website with screen readers used by individuals with visual impairments. The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, relying on the “unambiguous and clear” text of the ADA. Here, the court noted that the ADA’s list of places of public accommodation includes only tangible, physical spaces, not intangible spaces like websites. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit held that Title III’s application is limited to physical spaces. The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s claim that Winn Dixie’s inaccessible website served as an intangible barrier to Winn Dixie’s good and services in violation of the ADA because the no goods or services were available for purchase on Winn Dixie’s website, and all website interactions ultimately had to be completed in-store. The court also noted that it was unpersuaded by the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision in Robles v. Dominos, in which the Ninth Circuit concluded that the Plaintiff had successfully stated a claim against Dominos for its inaccessible website. Unlike with Winn Dixie’s website, purchases could actually be made on Domino’s website, and the Eleventh Circuit rejected the Ninth Circuit’s “nexus” standard, which only requires a plaintiff to show that an inaccessible website has a nexus to a physical place to establish liability under the ADA. And, finally, while the Ninth Circuit held that Domino had fair notice that its ADA obligations extended to its website despite the lack of specific guidelines for website accessibility, the Eleventh Circuit held that “[a]bsent congressional action that broadens the definition of “places of public accommodation to include websites, we cannot extend ADA liability…where there is no barrier to access demanded by the statute.”
This decision comes as welcome reprieve for businesses that have long struggled with whether and how its obligations under Title III of the ADA extend to its website, and will likely cause the Eleventh Circuit to become an unattractive venue to file similar cases. Yet, this decision does not settle the issue of the ADA’s application to websites, but with the growing conflict among circuits, there is increased hope that the Supreme Court could take this issue up in the future.
Posted by: Byron King on 4/9/21 (This information is only accurate as of 4/9/21. You must contact SCR for updates and changes to this information after 4/9/21 as laws and regulations may change over time. SCR 803-772-5206 or email info at screaltors.org)