You’ve received a web accessibility demand letter that alleges violations with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Given the high costs of accessibility litigation, you decide to reach a settlement and promise to remediate the alleged accessibility barriers.
But several months later, you receive a second letter from a completely different plaintiff. What happens now?
Given the outcome of Haynes v. Hooters of America, LLC (which we’ll discuss in a moment), the new lawsuit may be able to proceed. Below, we’ll explain why — but as a quick reminder, the Bureau of Internet Accessibility is not a law firm, and this article is not intended as legal advice.
If you’ve received an ADA demand letter, talk to your attorney, then contact the Bureau of Internet Accessibility to create an accessibility compliance strategy.
Haynes v. Hooters and Web Accessibility
To understand the importance of Haynes v. Hooters, we’ll need to provide some background.
In 2016, restaurant chain Hooters of America, LLC privately settled a lawsuit with plaintiff Andres Gomez, who had accused the company of discriminating against people with vision disabilities by failing to provide an accessible website. Gomez, who is legally blind, agreed to a settlement that required Hooters to meet the basic requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 within 12 months.
But on April 4, 2017, another plaintiff, Dennis Haynes, filed a nearly identical lawsuit. Hooters filed a motion to dismiss that case, arguing that since they had a remediation plan in place, the case was moot.
Having a remediation plan doesn’t prevent additional lawsuits
In legal parlance, mootness means that the defendant cannot file meaningful relief, so the case shouldn’t proceed. Haynes argued that the case wasn’t moot, since he had no ability to enforce the private settlement from Gomez v. Hooters.
In June 2018, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida agreed with Haynes.
“Hooters’ assurance to an unrelated third party to remediate its website does not alone moot Haynes’ claims for relief,” the decision reads.
The Court went on to note that Hooters had not demonstrated that it had successfully improved web accessibility at that point — and even if it had provided such evidence, Haynes was not party to the Gomez settlement agreement and had no way to enforce the remediation plan.
Every business has a responsibility to provide an accessible website
Some legal experts note that the Hooters v. Gomez settlement could have been written differently to reduce the risk of additional litigation. For example, if the settlement acknowledged the company’s intention to benefit all disabled individuals, future plaintiffs could enforce the settlement.
We’ll stay out of those legal arguments. With that said, Hooters v. Haynes had a few key lessons for businesses:
- Settling an ADA lawsuit doesn’t provide blanket protection from future lawsuits, even within a short timeframe.
- To reduce legal risks, businesses need to demonstrate compliance with the ADA’s Title III.
- Demonstrating compliance is much easier with objective standards. Since the ADA doesn’t have clear technical standards for websites, businesses should follow the Level AA guidelines of the latest version of WCAG (currently, WCAG 2.1).
Needless to say, the best strategy is to build an accessibility remediation strategy before you receive a demand letter — and have a plan in place for long-term compliance.
An accessible website improves compliance and expands your audience
Digital accessibility isn’t optional, but it does have substantial benefits outside of reduced legal exposure.
When you build your content with an accessible mindset, you reach a wider audience and provide each user with a consistent, predictable experience. The less obvious benefits of accessibility include better search engine optimization (SEO), positive public relations, and cleaner code.
WCAG provides the best roadmap for finding and fixing common barriers, and by testing your content against the guidelines, you can make improvements that impact all users — and in doing so, reduce the chances of an ADA lawsuit (or two).
To take the first steps towards a more accessible website, start with a free WCAG 2.1 Level AA compliance summary or send us a message to connect with a subject matter expert.