A Winn-Dixie lawsuit has been at the center of the American Disabilities Act compliance (ADA compliance) world since 2017. While they recently had an appeals court rule in their favor, the fiasco could easily have been avoided. Examining the situation and how the grocery store chain could have responded differently reveals how you can better protect your company by properly addressing ADA compliance.
About the Winn-Dixie ADA Lawsuit
The Winn-Dixie lawsuit stems back to 2017 and a man named Juan Carlos Gil. Gil, a Florida resident who is blind, had been doing his grocery shopping at Miami-area Winn-Dixie stores for the previous 15 years.
In the years leading up to the lawsuit, Gil became aware that patrons could fill prescriptions through the Winn-Dixie website. Many customers utilized this service for its speed. While Gil liked the idea of speed, he particularly wanted the privacy of online ordering: in the store, he was unaware if people were nearby listening when he placed his order.
The reason the Winn-Dixie lawsuit was filed is that the site did not meet ADA compliance standards. Gil was unable to order his prescriptions online because the Winn-Dixie website was not designed for compatibility with his screen-reading software.
In Gil’s 2017 suit, he argued that the store was discriminating against him as a blind person since he was forced to order prescriptions through slower, less private means. Additionally, he could not access the store locator tool and digital coupons for automatic reduction of loyalty card purchases.
“Public Accommodation” and The Winn-Dixie Website Case
The crux of the Winn-Dixie lawsuit was the notion of “public accommodation.” While accommodating the public through ADA compliance is required in some situations, courts have been split on whether websites must be compliant if there is no “nexus to a physical location.”
This Winn-Dixie lawsuit was incredibly important because it was the first case in the nation to go to trial that addressed ADA website compliance. And it was the first case in which a court reviewed digital accessibility without being dropped or settled pre-trial.
The court determined that the website was a gateway to the physical stores since it offered such services as a store location finder, coupons, and product recall information, along with prescription refills. Gil won. However, the saga would continue.
Case Overturned… But Will It Hold, and Was It Worth It?
The most recent development in this Winn-Dixie ADA lawsuit came in April 2021. An appeals court decided against the original judgment, concluding that the ADA’s public accommodations rule (within the Americans with Disabilities Act’s Title III) did not apply to websites.
However, this win may not apply to future cases. The Department of Justice is expected to clarify this aspect of ADA compliance during the Biden Administration. At present, websites are among a dozen “places of public accommodation” listed within the ADA — which is why the appeals court ruled in Winn-Dixie’s favor. However, if the DOJ releases regulations specifically applicable to websites, there will be no more gray areas, and online compliance will be mandatory.
Plus, while the grocery store chain may want to celebrate this victory, it is certainly not entirely sweet. Winn-Dixie would have saved a huge amount of money by ensuring their site was ADA-compliant in the first place. The current Winn-Dixie site was built in 2015. It was revamped in 2017 for a total of $9 million. Disabilities accessibility was not a factor considered at either point. With that huge amount already invested in the site, making the site compliant would have cost only an additional $37,000 to $250,000 per expert testimony in the case.
Winn-Dixie could have avoided not just the high cost of a lawsuit but the damage to their brand with slightly more money spent upfront. After all, the appeals decision has been called “a significant blow against disability rights.” If Winn-Dixie’s goal was to prove to the public that they were not a discriminatory organization, it seems winning the appeal did not accomplish that.
ADA Compliance: Future-proofing Your Site and Your Brand
In some cases, ADA compliance is clearly needed. In other cases, companies may not need compliance now but could end up having to upgrade their sites if the DOJ acts. Plus, companies should not just consider whether ADA compliance is required but whether enabling access aligns with their values and how they want to be perceived.
Do you need ADA compliance for your website? At Oyova, our team of accessibility experts will work with you to ensure compliance so that your business is protected and your consumers are properly considered. Schedule a call with us today to discover how we can keep your website ADA compliant.