The Domino's accessibility case will not be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, with the company's petition denied in an October 7, 2019 order.
The original case, Robles v. Domino's Pizza, LLC, was filed in 2016, alleging that the Domino's website and app were not accessible to individuals who are blind or visually-impaired using a screen reader, and were thus in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Domino's had asked the Supreme Court to overrule a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion from earlier this year, which upheld that the ADA applies to websites and mobile apps. Before being reversed by the Ninth Circuit, a lower court had dismissed the case against the pizza company, accepting their defense that allowing the case to continue without formalized web accessibility regulations from the Department of Justice (DOJ) would violate the company's due process rights.
With the Supreme Court placing the case on its "CERTIORARI DENIED" list, the Ninth Circuit's opinion remains the latest precedent. The Ninth Circuit opinion's summary clarified exactly why the ADA applies to websites and apps, including those of Domino's:
"The Act mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino's, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind. Even though customers primarily accessed the website and app away from Domino's physical restaurants, the panel stated that the ADA applies to the services of a public accommodation, not services in a place of public accommodation. The panel stated that the website and app connected customers to the goods and services of Domino's physical restaurants."
Why fighting an accessibility lawsuit by challenging whether websites fall under the ADA is a mistake
Many accessibility advocates as well as individuals and organizations in the industry are wondering the same thing: Why is Domino's approaching the situation by trying to invalidate the longstanding precedent that the ADA covers websites and apps?
Ten reasons this strategy is misguided
- The DOJ has repeatedly confirmed that the ADA applies to websites. There is little reason to believe that in the long-shot of the Supreme Court hearing the case, they would have determined otherwise.
- There are state laws, other federal laws, and a number of viable avenues for complaints and lawsuits to be filed in the interest of digital accessibility. This means that in the even-more unlikely situation that the Supreme Court ruled in Domino's favor, they're still not off the hook.
- There are international laws protecting digital accessibility, and those laws are growing in number and scope. And, Domino's does a lot of business internationally — over 50% of their sales are outside the country.
- The company is probably spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars on legal fees and costs. They could have made their website and app accessible for a fraction of that.
- They will probably have to fix their website and app anyway. In one of the true kickers of the approach Domino's is taking, it's only a matter of time before they have to make their digital experiences accessible, either due to an eventual settlement or court decision in this case, additional suits based on other accessibility laws, or pressures to compete in a marketplace that is moving full-steam toward accessibility.
- They are damaging their reputation. For an organization that has invested a ton in reinventing itself over the years and powerful marketing strategies, it's surprising to witness the hit they are inflicting on their brand in this battle.
- Despite quotations and statements that say otherwise, they are making what amounts to a public statement that they don't support, or at least don't enable, the right of people who are blind to independently be their customers.
- They are sending a message to employees and talent that they don't value people with disabilities. Whether this sentiment is representative of the organization's true opinions and values is secondary because this is the message the world is hearing.
- This feels like the wrong focus for the company. In situations like this, businesses might be wise to make themselves better, not fight laws.
- This will be hard to return from and was lose-lose from the beginning. While the Supreme Court's decision to not hear the case is widely-considered a legal loss for Domino's, it's possible the Supreme Court did them a favor and they were dealt the lesser of two evils. In the highly-unlikely event that the Supreme Court heard the case and ruled in Domino's favor, all they'd have gained would be a lengthy, costly legal battle that is bad for business and sends the wrong message to those watching.
What should your company's approach to accessibility be?
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