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Nation & World

Supreme Court allows blind people to sue retailers if their websites are not accessible

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for blind people to sue Domino’s Pizza and other retailers if their websites are not accessible to these people.

In a potentially far-reaching move, the justices turned down an appeal from Domino’s and let stand a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling holding that the Americans With Disabilities Act protects access not just to restaurants and stores, but also to the websites and apps of those businesses.

Guillermo Robles, who is blind, filed suit in Los Angeles 3 years ago and complained he had been unable to order a pizza online because the Domino’s website lacked the software that would allow him to communicate. He cited the ADA, which guarantees to persons with a disability “full and equal enjoyment the goods and services … of any place of public accommodations.”

Lawyers for Domino’s agreed this provision applied to its pizza stores, but not its website.

Last year, however, the 9th Circuit ruled for Robles and said the law applied to its online services as well as the store.

“The ADA mandates that places of public accommodation, like Domino’s, provide auxiliary aids and services to make visual materials available to individuals who are blind,” the appeals court said in January.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and business groups who said they represented 500,000 restaurants and 300,000 businesses joined in an appeal urging the high court to review the 9th Circuit’s decision. They said they feared a “tsunami of litigation,” and worried that judges nationwide would see the appeals court’s decision as “imposing a nationwide website-accessibility mandate.”

But without comment or dissent on Monday, the high court said it would not hear the case of Domino’s Pizza vs. Robles.

This is not a formal ruling upholding the 9th Circuit decision, and the justices could agree to take up the issue later if lower courts are divided.

But for now, the court’s action strongly suggests that retailers will be required to make their websites accessible.

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