New York Federal Judge Issues Landmark Ruling Signaling Potential Change in Tide of ADA Website Litigation
Generally speaking, unlike some courts in other jurisdictions, the New York federal courts have been hospitable to claims by disabled plaintiffs that websites do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) due to lack of accessibility based on, among other things, incompatibility with software used by visually impaired individuals and lack of closed captioning on videos that contain audio content as is needed by deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. As a result, disabled plaintiffs file hundreds of such actions in the Southern District of New York and Eastern District of New York every year, including against companies with scant connection to New York. A notable new decision from Judge Eric Komitee in the Eastern District of New York in Winegard v. Newsday LLC, 19 CV 04420, issued on August 16, 2021, took a much different tack. If this decision is affirmed on appeal or followed by other jurists, the New York federal courts will no longer be a hotbed of these cases.
On the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act last month, President Biden announced that people experiencing long-term COVID symptoms could be protected under the ADA. At the same time, the departments of Justice and of Health and Human Services issued joint guidance that long-term COVID illness may be considered a disability under federal anti-discrimination laws.
Jasmine Harris of the University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law is an expert in disability and anti-discrimination law. Penn Today spoke with her about the significance of Biden’s proclamation, the history of the law, and what challenges might lay ahead for COVID long haulers.
Roommates Sidney Buchanan and Kathryn Centorcelli were looking forward to last weekend’s Sangria Festival all summer. The two bought tickets back in June, thinking it’d be a fun and safe activity to enjoy. But their plans were quashed when Buchanan was denied entry for bringing her marked service dog. In what could be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the fest’s security guards told Buchanan dogs weren’t allowed under any circumstances, forcing her and Centorcelli to leave. The fest’s organizers said they “deeply apologize for the unfortunate incident and are working on educating and training everyone involved.” But Buchanan and Centorcelli said they want to raise awareness about the incident to prevent other people with disabilities from being unfairly or illegally blocked from participating in public events.
Buchanan is a 23-year-old teacher who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She said she was struggling to manage her mental illness until she got Woofy, a 2-year-old black Labrador retriever, earlier this year. Woofy is classified as a psychiatric service dog and is trained to prevent Buchanan from having panic attacks and to help during an episode.