Supreme Court Rejects Domino’s on Blind Man’s Website Lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Domino’s Pizza Inc., leaving the company to face a lawsuit by a blind man who says its website and mobile-phone app don’t comply with a federal disabilities law.

Corporate trade groups had urged the court to take up the case, saying they are seeing an explosion of lawsuits alleging that sites don’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. They contended that businesses can’t be sued for failing to make their websites and mobile-phone apps accessible to people with disabilities.

The high court left intact a federal appeals court decision that said Domino’s must defend against claims by Guillermo Robles, who says the pizza chain’s website and app don’t work with the common screen-reading software he uses on other sites.

“The alleged inaccessibility of Domino’s website and app impedes access to the goods and services of its physical pizza franchises,” wrote the three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based court.

The case is one of the first to test how the 1990 law, which led stores and office buildings to install ramps and button-operated doors, applies in a world of online shopping and ordering.

The ADA, as the law is known, requires that stores and other “public accommodations” take steps to ensure access for disabled people.

Domino’s contended in its appeal that the public-accommodations provision applies only to physical facilities. The pizza chain said companies don’t have to make their websites and apps fully accessible as long as disabled customers have other ways to get the same goods and services, such as a telephone hotline.

The ADA “does not demand full accessibility for each and every means of accessing the goods or services a public accommodation provides to the public,” the company argued in its appeal. What matters is the “combined means of access to those goods or services,” Domino’s said.

Customized Pizzas

Robles says he uses the popular “Job Access With Speech” software, known as JAWS, to read web pages. That software works only if graphics and hyperlinks have “alt-text,” a description of the image that appears when a cursor floats over it or the screen-reading software detects it.

Robles contends that without alt-text, he can’t order customized pizzas on the Domino’s website. He says he isn’t able to use Domino’s mobile app on his iPhone because it includes unlabeled buttons that don’t conform to Apple Inc.’s guidelines.

He urged the Supreme Court to reject the Domino’s appeal, saying he isn’t getting the benefits of online ordering.

“Domino’s offers these online options because many customers find them more convenient and they ensure that orders are more accurate,” Robles argued in court papers. “And Domino’s provides some discounts exclusively online.”

Domino’s says more than 2,250 federal lawsuits were filed over website access in 2018, almost triple the number from 2017.

“ADA litigation has become almost as universal as apps themselves,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued in a brief backing the Domino’s appeal.

The case is Domino’s Pizza v. Robles, 18-1539.