One of the most important web accessibility lawsuits has finally reached its conclusion.
On June 6, 2022, Domino’s Pizza, LLC, settled with plaintiff Guillermo Robles, who has a vision disability. The lawsuit has had a profound impact on ADA enforcement, and while we don’t know the exact terms of the settlement, we can draw some important conclusions from how the saga unfolded. Below, we’ll explain some of the key takeaways from the case.
A Quick Overview of Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC
Robles alleged that the Domino’s website and smartphone app were not accessible for people who use screen readers, and thus, the pizza chain’s digital products violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A screen reader is a software application that converts onscreen text to audio or braille.
Specific accessibility barriers cited in the lawsuit included:
- Lack of alternative text (also known as “alt text") for graphics
- Empty hyperlinks with no text to identify the link’s purpose
- Redundant links that point to the same URL address
The case was filed in 2016, and over the past six years, it has had far-reaching implications for the digital accessibility landscape. Domino’s argued that the ADA does not apply to websites, since the Department of Justice (DOJ) does not maintain specific technical standards for web content. The chain contended that the lack of standards violated the pizza chain’s Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process.
A district court dismissed the case, but Robles appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which came to a much different conclusion: The court opined that the ADA applies to websites (PDF), and that Domino’s “had received fair notice" that its digital content must conform with the ADA.
The Supreme Court of the United States denied a petition to overrule the Ninth Circuit Court’s opinion, effectively establishing the precedent that the ADA applies to digital content — despite its lack of formalized web accessibility standards.
Fighting against ADA compliance isn’t great for business
The first takeaway — and arguably most important — is that fighting against ADA compliance requirements rarely works out for businesses. The decision to fight the lawsuit vs fixing their accessibility issues was foolish and irresponsible. Domino’s may have spent millions of dollars fighting the case, and by positioning themselves against the country’s most important non-discrimination law, they may have significantly damaged their brand in the process.
And while we don’t know the terms of the settlement (typically the attorneys receive a significant payment that is undisclosed), a 2021 motion for summary judgment decision found that Robles was entitled to a mere $4,000 in statutory damages under the California’s Unruh Act.
Additionally, many of the issues cited in the original lawsuit were fairly common web accessibility barriers. Addressing those issues would have required some updating of Domino's website and mobile app, but making the changes would open up those resources to many more consumers.
Since many accessibility improvements can enhance the experience for all users, there’s no business case for ignoring the basics of inclusive design.
WCAG remains a key standard for ADA compliance
In his complaint, Robles cited the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), the international consensus standards for digital accessibility. At the time, the latest version of WCAG was 2.0; currently, the official recommendation is WCAG 2.1, with WCAG 2.2 expected for release later this year.
Domino’s argued that WCAG was not required by the ADA, and as such, the standards weren’t applicable to the case. The Ninth Circuit found that Domino’s had no legal obligation to follow WCAG 2.0 — but with an important caveat:
“Robles does not seek to impose liability based on Domino’s failure to comply with WCAG 2.0,” the court wrote. “Rather, Robles merely argues — and we agree — that the district court can order compliance with WCAG 2.0 as an equitable remedy if, after discovery, the website and app fail to satisfy the ADA.”
The DOJ has regularly referenced WCAG when investigating ADA complaints, and in structured settlements, the Department has often required alleged violators to meet WCAG Level AA requirements.
Many view WCAG as an unenforceable, voluntary standard — but agree that it is an objective tool for determining whether websites are accessible. Following WCAG’s Level AA guidelines remains the best method for ensuring compliance with the ADA and other non-discrimination laws.
Every business has a responsibility to offer accessible services
For those of us in the digital accessibility space, the outcome of Domino’s v. Robles was predictable. The DOJ has expressed the opinion that the ADA applies to websites, and to date, the U.S. court system has largely agreed with that conclusion.
As the body of law surrounding digital accessibility has grown, the obligations for private organizations have become easier to understand. Businesses can accommodate the abilities and expectations of their customers by earning — and maintaining — conformance with the latest WCAG standards.
If you’ve received an ADA demand letter or you’re interested in learning more about the strong business case for accessibility, talk with our subject matter experts. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility also offers a free, confidential website accessibility scan, which tests your content against WCAG 2.1 Level AA checkpoints.