Target Corporation, unsurprisingly, made a plea to have the case against them dismissed, on the grounds that now law required them to provide an accessible website. Thankfully, Federal District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled that it is possible to sue a retailer for an inaccessible web site. It’s very important to note that this ruling does not effect the actual law suit except to allow it to go to court.
Regardless, this is a pretty exciting moment. This is a major precedent to set – a legal argument for the significance of accessibility in both electronic and physical places of business.
Target had attempted to argue that California and Federal civil rights laws applied only to physical business sites. However, the Court held that "whatever goods or services the place [of business] provides, it cannot discriminate on the basis of disability in providing enjoyment of those goods and services". A critical point; it is not the physical location which must be accessible, it is the business services provided which must be accessible.
No question that this is the big news for this case today – but what will happen tomorrow? It’s entirely possible, now that a precedent has been set, that any number of follow-up lawsuits could be pressed. Matt Bailey suggests that this is the "last thing we need". He’s probably right – what is needed is to set a strong example, not go wild with the courts. Matt also mentions the important fact that web retailers pay the price of inaccessibility in lost sales – it would be very interesting to see a cost analysis demonstrating how many sales Target has lost due to accessibility issues.
One interpretation of the ruling, provided by Mazen M. Basrawi, leaves me wondering a little what the actual wording of the decision was:
Explaining the ramification of the ruling, Mazen M. Basrawi, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Disability Rights Advocates, noted that: "the court clarified that the law requires that any place of public accommodation is required to ensure that it does not discriminate when it uses the internet as a means to enhance the services it offers at a physical location."
To me, what Basrawi is saying is that this ruling is only applied to physical businesses which have internet presence – internet-only services are not being held responsible. This is not how I read the original statement (below), so I have to wonder if there’s some further information in the ruling which would describe the judgement more clearly. I sincerely hope that the interpretation by Basrawi is inaccurate or misquoted – this law should be applied to all places of business and all business services, physical or virtual, not merely those online services which are aspects of physical places of business.
The court held: "the ‘ordinary meaning’ of the ADA’s prohibition against discrimination in the enjoyment of goods, services, facilities or privileges, is that whatever goods or services the place provides, it cannot discriminate on the basis of disability in providing enjoyment of those goods and services."