National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp.
||This article reads like a news release, or is otherwise written in a promotional tone. (August 2008)||
National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation, 452 F.Supp.2d 946 (2006), was a class action lawsuit in the United States that was filed on February 7, 2006 in the Superior Court of California for the County of Alameda, and subsequently moved to federal court. The case challenged whether the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, specifically Title III's provisions prohibiting discrimination by "places of public accommodation" (42 U.S.C. 12181 et seq) apply to websites and/ or the Internet, or are restricted to physical places.
The plaintiff, National Federation of the Blind (NFB), sued Target Corporation, a national retail chain, claiming that blind people were unable to access much of the information on the defendant's website, nor purchase anything from its website independently.
Prior to the ruling, commercial websites had not been regarded as a mandatory subject of accommodation because they were not presumed to fall within the umbrella of protections established by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Pre-trial negotiations and filing
A series of unsuccessful negotiations were commenced between the NFB and Target Corporation in May 2005, which continued until January 2006. In May 2005, the NFB wrote to Target, asking for it to make its website accessible to people who are blind. The NFB requested that Target optimize its website accessibility for the blind by adopting standards promulgated by the World Wide Web Consortium, including the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board's Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 standards, specifically encouraging Target to adopt the alt attribute for clickable images featured on the website. In its petition, NFB alleged that in one instance, when a blind user visiting this website selected an image of a Dyson vacuum cleaner using his or her tab key, the voice synthesizer on the computer would say "Link GP browse dot html reference zero six zero six one eight nine six three eight one eight zero seven two nine seven three five 12 million 957 thousand 121" instead of a useful description of the image. The NFB also claimed that the site lacked image maps and other accommodations, which prevented legally blind individuals from navigating through the website, and that the design of the online checkout pages prevented users with visual disabilities from being able to determine where the mouse pointer was on the screen.
On February 7, 2006, the NFB filed a civil lawsuit against Target Corporation in the Superior Court of California for the County of Alameda, alleging that the defendant corporations consumer website operated in violation of the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, the California Disabled Persons Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Following a successful motion for removal of the case to federal court on March 6, 2006, a subsequent motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim was filed by Target Corporation in defense of the allegations. In its motion to dismiss, Target Corporation argued that the applicable civil rights laws mandated that only retail stores must provide accessibility accommodations to disabled persons, and thus that dismissal should be granted for failure to state a valid claim against its online activities. Target argued that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was intended to apply exclusively to physical accommodations instead of cyberspace, and that such application of the California acts on accessibility would violate the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.
On September 7, 2006, the court ordered that a retailer may be sued if its website is inaccessible to the blind. In the court's opinion, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel explained that the order of the court was based upon "42 U.S. Code § 12182", the prohibition of discrimination by public accommodations clause of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination in the "enjoyment of goods, services, facilities or privileges."
On October 2, 2007, the U.S. Federal District Court for the Northern District of California certified a nationwide class action pursuit against Target Corporation consisting of all legally blind individuals in the United States who had attempted to access Target.com and as a result were denied access to the enjoyment of goods and services offered in the defendant's stores. The order furthered certified a California subclass, which included all legally blind individuals in California who attempted to access Target.com on behalf of blind Internet customers. The court previously denied Target’s motion to dismiss and upheld NFB's argument that websites like Target.com must be accessible to the blind under both California law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Settlement and Award
In September 2008, the parties reached a settlement, stipulating that further changes would be made to the website and policies of Target Corporation, and also established a $6,000,000 settlement fund to compensate members of the California subclass. The parties also agreed that Target Corporation would pay the plaintiffs’ reasonable attorneys' fees and litigation costs in an amount to be determined by the court.
On August 3, 2009, Judge Patel awarded $3,738,864.96 in attorney’s fees and costs to the plaintiffs. The court substantiated the award by declaring that “[p]laintiffs have broken new ground in an important area of law” and noting that the "litigation [extended] important areas of disability law into an emerging form of electronic commerce that promises to grow in importance.”
The intent of the court order was to certify that certain online retailers may be required to provide access to the disabled. Target issued a response by claiming "We believe our Web site complies with all applicable laws and are committed to vigorously defending this case. We will continue to implement technology that increases the usability of our Web site for all our guests, including those with disabilities."
On February 9th, 2010, The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), a national organization which advocates for the accessibility of the internet by persons suffering from partial or total blindness, awarded the Gold Level NFB-NVA Certification to Target.com. The NFB and Target have established a continued partnership to help ensure equal access is given to Target.com products and information to blind consumers and the NFB commended Target as a leader in web accessibility.
- National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corporation fact sheet
- Paul Harpur, 'From universal exclusion to universal equality: Regulating Ableism in a Digital Age' (2013) 40 Northern Kentucky Law Review 3, 529-565.
- KARE 11 article on blind customer praising September 7, 2006 court ruling
- WRAL Local Tech Wire article Websites For The Blind: Is This The Next ‘Year 2000 Compliant’ Requirement?
- U.S. Government Printing Office, 42U.S.C. § 12182 last accessed May 5, 2014
- September 6, 2006 Memorandum and Order by Judge Patel
- October 2, 2007 Memorandum and Order