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Interfacing in Florida: The ADA Meets the Digital Age

June 19, 2017

Juan Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie, No. 16-23020, 2017 WL 2547242 (S.D. Fla. 2017).

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was first enacted in 1990 (long before the Internet, smart phones, and social media ruled our world), recently joined us on the fast-paced trek into the digital age. The Southern District of Florida has put a new twist on traditional notions of ADA “accessibility” by ruling that Winn-Dixie’s failure to make its website accessible to visually impaired users violates the right to accessibility contained in Title III of the Act. In Juan Carlos Gil v. Winn-Dixie, 2017 WL 2547242 (S.D. Fla. 2017), long-time Winn-Dixie patron, Juan Carlos Gil, a legally blind individual, brought suit against the grocer after finding that his commonly used screen reader software was not compatible with Winn-Dixie’s website. Mr. Gil wanted to use the website to order his prescriptions online, as well as have access to digital coupons.

The federal court (Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr.) found that Mr. Gil’s right to full enjoyment of goods and services under the ADA does not just apply to “physical” enjoyment, but also “digital” enjoyment of the services Winn-Dixie’s website has to offer, like the pharmaceutical management feature. According to the court, Winn-Dixie’s website is a gateway to the physical store, qualifying it as a place of public accommodation. Mr. Gil stated that his goal in suing Winn-Dixie was not to recover damages; he simply wanted the company to follow the law. The court granted Mr. Gil’s request for an injunction requiring, among other things, that Winn-Dixie make its website compatible with prominent screen reading software. However, the court is allowing Mr. Gil to recover his attorney’s fees and costs, which will be significant.

Federal courts remain split on the issue, with new decisions coming out almost daily. HR personnel and business owners need to remain aware of the uncertainty in the law at this time, and are encouraged to speak with an attorney about potential liability under the ADA regarding their presence on the Internet.

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