By Minh N. Vu and John W. Egan
Seyfarth Synopsis: Enterprising plaintiffs in New York are suing more than 100 businesses under a new theory – – that ADA Title III requires Braille gift cards.
Between Thursday, October 24 and as recently as last Friday, over 100 putative class action lawsuits (and counting) have been filed against businesses for violations of ADA Title III, as well as the New York State and City Human Rights Laws in the United States District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. The complaints are nearly identical and assert the same theory: A business that provides a gift card for purchase, but does not offer a Braille version, is committing discrimination against individuals who are blind or have visual impairments.
There are 11 plaintiffs and 4 law firms that have filed these cases. Coincidentally, these are the same litigants and attorneys who have filed hundreds of lawsuits against businesses (including some of the same business targeted in these gift card cases) for allegedly inaccessible websites over the past several years. In fact, based on our research, these plaintiffs and their attorneys, taken together, were responsible for approximately one-third of all federal website accessibility lawsuits filed in New York last year.
Businesses facing a barrage of website accessibility lawsuits and demand letters must now deal with this new threat based on what certainly appears to be a coordinated and wide-ranging legal challenge.
The gift card complaints allege that the plaintiff is blind and contacted the defendant earlier this month to inquire as to whether its gift cards are provided in Braille. When each defendant allegedly responded that a Braille gift card was not available, the plaintiff commenced a lawsuit shortly thereafter. The complaints cite at least one retailer that sells a gift card with its name in Braille, recites the ubiquity and importance of gift cards in the retail industry, and relies on the provision of Braille materials as an example of an auxiliary aid or service in ADA regulations.
Without “giving away the store,” we believe that there are compelling defenses to these cases and look forward to how the judges in the SDNY and EDNY will respond. Stay tuned to the Blog for further updates on this developing story.
Edited by Kristina M. Launey