US Supreme Court Acheson Hotel Case May Impact Web Accessibility Lawsuits

Created on November 12, 2023 at 11:37 am

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.

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