In a significant ruling concerning the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”), and the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), the Honorable Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York recently denied a defendant’s motion to dismiss. See Martinez et. Al, v. Gutsy LLC. D/B/A Culture Pop, 22 Civ. 409 (NGG)(RLM) (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 29, 2022) (“Gutsy”).
Plaintiff Pedro Martinez is legally blind; to access website content, he uses screen-reading software. Plaintiff brought this action against Defendant Gutsy LLC d/b/a Culture Pop to have the company remediate its website and comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG 2.1”) set forth by the World Wide Web Consortium. When a website does not adhere to these guidelines, it is inaccessible to blind users, even to those using screen readers.
Defendant’s motion to dismiss was rooted in one legal question – namely, is a commercial website that lacks any connection to a physical place considered a “place of public accommodation” under the ADA? Courts must decide whether the word “place” in the ADA refers to a physical establishment, such as a brick-and-mortar store, or whether it also applies to non-physical places, like the internet, where disability-based discrimination can, and does, occur.
Second Circuit courts are split between liberal versus strict nexus approaches, though the majority lean toward commercial websites as being places of public accommodation independent of a nexus requirement.
In rejecting the legal findings of fellow E.D.N.Y. Judges Eric R. Komitee and Brian Cogan, Judge Garaufis reasoned that a dynamic interpretation of the ADA is appropriate to account for changes in technology over time that have altered what constitutes an “area of public life.” The COVID-19 pandemic saw nearly all aspects of everyday life migrate to the internet. As such, it would be discriminatory for a website to be inaccessible to a disabled person. Additionally, the Department of Justice counsels in favor of standalone websites being treated as places of public accommodation.
Following this reasoning, which closely tracks similar decisions issued by courts in the Southern District of New York, Judge Garaufis denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss in a substantial win for the blind community.
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