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January 21, 2020

Hotels and Motels Targeted in Website Accessibility Litigation

Deborah Laufer, who is visually impaired, is the plaintiff in over 40 lawsuits recently filed in NYS federal courts against hotels, motels, and other places of lodging. The lawsuits allege the online reservation system for each property––whether directly operated by the hotel or motel or indirectly operated through third-party websites (e.g., Expedia, Orbitz, Hotels.com)––are inaccessible to Laufer and otherwise fail to provide certain information concerning features of the property, which violates, among other laws, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

As previously reported by Barclay Damon LLP in November 2017 and January 2018, these lawsuits are part of a rapidly growing trend in internet, technology, and website accessibility litigation. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any “place of public accommodation,” and it also requires that businesses make reasonable modifications to eliminate barriers. Notably, liability in these website accessibility cases is generally limited to injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees, and it is the latter that seems to be driving the surge in litigation.

Both state and federal lawmakers have recently taken steps to curb website accessibility lawsuits, but, to date, no legislation has been passed. In the absence of legislation or regulations promulgated by the US Department of Justice, we recommend that any hotel, motel, or other place of lodging that operates a website or mobile application take steps to ensure its online reservation system is not only accessible to the blind and visually impaired, but that the information on any online reservation system concerning accessible features of the property is otherwise compliant with local, state, and federal disability laws. This includes conforming all web and mobile content with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, at least until there is meaningful legislative or regulatory action.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Rob Thorpe, counsel, at rthorpe@barclaydamon.com or another member of the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Area.

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