How an Employer’s Website Opened the Door to a Disability Discrimination Claim

Employers would be wise to carefully comb through their online job solicitations to ensure they are accessible to those who are visually impaired or blind. This is true even if you aren’t primarily operating in California. Failure to do so could result in significant financial damages, as well as loss of customers and a stain on their reputation. This was underscored recently in a California disability employment lawsuit, Thurston v. Fairfield Collectibles of Georgia, LLC, filed by a California resident against a Georgia company.disability discrimination employment

According to court records, plaintiff was blind and a resident of California. She sued the business for not providing her with full and equal access to its website, which she claimed was in violation of the state’s disability discrimination law. Specifically, she alleged a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

This does pertain specifically to employment law, but rather to the right to full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges and services in all business establishments of any kind whatsoever. Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, genetic discrimination, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship, primary language or immigration status. The UCRA further indicates that any violation outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is also a violation of the UCRA.

In 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in Robles v. Domino’s Pizza, LLC that the ADA was applicable to the Domino’s app and website, neither of which were full accessible to those who were blind or visually-impaired. The justices noted that the restaurant, as a place of public accommodation, provided auxiliary support and services for people who are blind. While most people were accessing the web materials away from the physical restaurant sites, the ADA public accommodation rules were applicable to websites because they connect customers to goods and services. The restaurant tried to argue the statute was too vague and imposing this liability was a violation of the business’s 14th Amendment rights, but the Ninth Circuit rejected this argument.

What the ruling in Thurston did was apply this same standard to out-of-state defendants. The reason that matters for California employees and prospective employees is that any violation of UCRA is also a violation of the ADA, under which many disability discrimination claims are filed. Claims for disability discrimination may also be filed under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, a state law that prohibits discrimination in all business practices, including advertisements (which would apply to web solicitations for jobs, processing of applications and screening of prospective candidates).

The best way for businesses to handle disability discrimination claims is to avoid them in the first place by ensuring their business practices comply with ADA and UCRA standards. A good place to start is the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. It would be unwise for employers to simply ignore this, even if they aren’t based in California.

Prospective employees who feel they have been disadvantaged by a company’s failure to allow them equal employment opportunities through online marketing of job opportunities should contact an experienced Los Angeles employment lawyer.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Employment Discrimination, California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

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