US Supreme Court Acheson Hotel Case May Impact Web Accessibility Lawsuits

By admin
This is an article about a lawsuit in

the United States
GPE

. The case will be heard in

the U.S Supreme Court
ORG

on

October 4, 2023
DATE

. It is about whether a civil rights tester can file a lawsuit. Testing has been an important part of civil rights enforcement in this country for

decades
DATE

. It is an important tool for

the Americans with Disabilities Act
ORG

. This lawsuit is about a hotel’s failure to post information on its website about accessible rooms, which is required by the

ADA
ORG

. This case is not about web accessibility but the court’s opinion may impact web access cases. The opinion is not expected until

2024
CARDINAL

On

Wednesday October 4
DATE


the United States Supreme Court
ORG

will hear arguments in a case about who can file a lawsuit under

the Americans with Disabilities Act
ORG

. The case is called

Acheson Hotels
ORG

vs.

Deborah Laufer
PERSON

.

Ms.

Laufer
PERSON

is a disabled woman. She uses a wheelchair and has a vision impairment and limited use of her hands. She sued because when she visited the

Acheson Hotels
ORG

website she found it was in violation of a part of the

ADA
ORG

that requires hotels to post online information about its hotel rooms’ accessibility features. This information is essential to disabled travelers across

the United States
GPE

.

The case is not about whether the

Acheson
PERSON

website is accessible, but

the Supreme Court Opinion
ORG

, not expected until

2024
DATE

, may impact lawsuits filed about whether a website is accessible to disabled people.

Audio recordings and transcripts of

the US Supreme Court
ORG

argument in this case should be available on the court’s website on

October 4
DATE

.

What is this case about?

In

the United States
GPE

, a person cannot just file a lawsuit whenever they encounter something they do not like. A person has to have “standing to sue” to file the case. Standing means you have to be harmed by a problem you encountered and are trying to remedy.


Deborah Laufer
PERSON

is what is known as a civil rights tester: she did not intend to visit

the Acheson Hotel
FAC

, but instead she was testing its website to see if

Acheson
PERSON

complied with

the Americans with Disabilities Act
ORG

requirements for posting hotel accessibility information.

In

the United States
GPE

, there is a long legal history saying that civil rights testers have standing to sue. This history recognizes that testing for violation of civil rights laws (like the

ADA
ORG

) and filing lawsuits when discrimination is found, is crucial to enforcing those laws. Testers, for example, have been critical in enforcing laws designed to prohibit landlords and homeowners from discriminating against

Black
LOC

people wanting to secure housing. (Read about testers and

Martin Luther King
PERSON

’s role in fair housing advocacy.)

This legal history recognizes too that civil rights testers experience the type of harm that is required to file a lawsuit.

In this case,

Deborah Laufer
PERSON

stated that she experienced “frustration and humiliation” and a “sense of isolation and segregation” when she discovered that

Acheson Hotels
ORG

did not provide the information required by the

ADA
ORG

. She also stated that she felt she was “treated like a

second
ORDINAL

class citizen” when she could not get the required accessibility information from the website. This type of impact, known as “dignitary harm” has long been the type of harm that standing law requires.

This is a very early stage of the case — the

Court
ORG

will be deciding only if it go forward or should it be thrown out. It is not about who will ultimately win or lose the case. It is not about whether there are too many

ADA
ORG

lawsuits, or even whether Ms.

Laufer
PERSON

herself has filed too many lawsuits. At this stage of the case the court must consider her court pleadings to be true.

As the lawyers for the disability community wrote in a brief, the court should only be deciding “whether a disabled person who pled that she experienced “frustration and humiliation” and a “sense of isolation and segregation” upon finding required accessibility information absent from a hotel’s reservations service has alleged an injury-in-fact sufficient to establish standing at the motion-to-dismiss stage.”

The outpouring of support for the rights of testers to file discrimination lawsuits from prominent organizations across the civil right spectrum (see links below) demonstrates the importance of tester standing to make sure civil rights laws in this country are enforced.

The Supreme Court
ORG

’s eventual opinion on standing in this case may impact web accessibility cases too. We’ll have to wait and see.

Learn more about this case

Many “

Friends of the Court
WORK_OF_ART

” briefs (officially called

Amicus Briefs
PERSON

) were filed in support of

Deborah Laufer
PERSON

’s right to bring this lawsuit as a civil rights tester. These include the following

Disability community brief: This brief was filed by

eighteen
CARDINAL

well respected disability rights organizations including the Disability rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF),

the National Association of the Deaf
ORG

(NAD),

the National Federation of the Blind (NFB
ORG

),

the Autistic Self Advocacy Network
ORG

(ASAN), and

the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD
ORG

). The full list of supporting organizations can be found on the last page of the brief.

Brief submitted by

Massachusetts
GPE

and

8
CARDINAL

other states. This brief in support of civil rights tester standing was filed by

Massachusetts
GPE

,

Connecticut
GPE

,

the District of Columbia
GPE

,

Illinois
GPE

,

Maryland
GPE

,

New Jersey
GPE

,

New York
GPE

,

Oregon
GPE

, and

Washington
GPE

. The brief begins with the statement that these states “share sovereign and compelling interests in protecting people with disabilities from discrimination within our borders.”

Brief submitted by

the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
ORG

and

8
CARDINAL

other civil rights organizations. This brief was filed by “civil rights organizations committed to the effective enforcement of anti-discrimination laws and the preservation of access to the courts for victims of discrimination.” In addition to

the NAACP LDF
ORG

the organizations include

Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic
ORG

,

Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc.
ORG

(“

Lambda Legal
WORK_OF_ART

”) and

the National Women’s Law Center
ORG

.

Civil rights lawsuits are essential to the legal framework in

the United States
GPE

that prohibits discrimination based on disability, race, gender, and more. And civil rights tester standing, as these briefs so carefully explain, is critical to that framework. I appreciate the principled (and excellent) work done by the lawyers who wrote these amicus briefs to protect the long history of civil rights enforcement in this country.