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Website is Not a Place of Public Accommodation

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals in major areas of public life, including employment, public services, and public accommodations. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that websites are not places of public accommodation under the ADA.

Juan Carlos Gil has a visual disability requiring him to access websites with screen reader software. This software reads the information from the website out loud to him. Gil sued Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc. (Winn-Dixie) because his software did not work on the grocery chain’s website. Winn-Dixie did not sell groceries directly on its website; it offered customers the opportunity to arrange in-store pickup of prescriptions and linked coupons to its rewards card. Gil sued when he could not use the website to refill his prescriptions, alleging it was a “place of public accommodation” under Title III of the ADA.

Winn-Dixie argued against the application of the ADA to its website, asserting it did not qualify as a place of public accommodation and its lack of accessibility did not prevent Gil from using its stores. In upholding Winn-Dixie’s argument, the Eleventh Circuit aligned itself with the First, Second, and Seventh Circuit courts. The ADA sets forth twelve types of physical locations that qualify as public accommodations. As such, the court concluded the ADA’s protections are limited to physical spaces. Courts have previously held this protection does extend to intangible barriers to the disabled person’s use. However, Winn-Dixie’s limited website did not operate as an intangible barrier to an individual with visual impairments to access its goods and services. Purchases always had to be made in the store; Gil could shop at the store and refill his prescriptions there. The court asserted that a website would create liability where the inaccessibility impairs the actual “place” of public accommodation. This holding diverges from the standard adopted by the Third and Ninth Circuits.