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Eleventh Circuit Holds Websites Are Not Places of Public Accommodation and Rejects the Nexus Standard

Written by: Mariel E. Smith, Esq.

In a recent decision, Gil v. Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., the Eleventh Circuit held that websites are not “places of public accommodation” under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation. The term “place of public accommodation” is key.

The Plaintiff, a long-time Winn-Dixie customer with a visual disability who must access websites with screen reader software, filed suit against Winn-Dixie under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) after he was unable to access Winn-Dixie’s website with his software. The district court found that Winn-Dixie’s website violated the ADA. However, the Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded the case, concluding that websites are not places of public accommodation under Title III of the ADA because, pursuant to the language of Title III, public accommodations are limited to actual, physical places; and Winn-Dixie’s limited use website such that purchases could not be made via the website, although inaccessible by individuals who are visually disabled, does not function as an intangible barrier to an individual with a visual disability accessing the goods, services, privileges, or advantages of Winn-Dixie’s physical stores (the operative place of public accommodation).

The Eleventh Circuit also rejected the nexus standard.  The argument under the nexus standard is that a website can constitute a place of public accommodation as long as it has a nexus to a physical location. But the Eleventh Circuit concluded that there was no basis for a nexus standard in the statute or in the Eleventh Circuit’s precedent.

The court explained that, absent congressional action that broadens the definition of “places of public accommodation” to include websites, the court cannot extend ADA liability to the facts presented in this case, where there is no barrier to the access demanded by the statute.

This is a noteworthy decision, particularly for our clients who face ADA claims.  We continue to monitor decisions affecting ADA laws as well as all Labor and Employment developments.   For any questions related to the above, or other changes in the law impacting discrimination claims, please feel free to contact our office.