Appeals Court Affirms Lower Court’s Dismissal of ADA Suit

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has affirmed a lower court’s decision that a credit union did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because its website was not completely accessible to a blind man, because the blind man was not eligible to join the credit union.

A copy of the ruling in Griffin v. Department of Labor Federal Credit Union can be accessed by clicking here.

Compliance with the ADA has become more of a concern for companies in the credit and collection industry in recent years [Editor’s Note: See the ARM Perspectives podcast for an episode dedicated to this topic.]. Companies need to make sure their websites are in compliance with the ADA or they could face lawsuits similar to this one, especially as more companies in the credit and collection industry push individuals to make their payments online.

In this case, the plaintiff — who is blind — visited the defendant’s website using a screen reader, which reads the text on a website. Some of the images on the defendant’s website lacked “alternative text” describing the content of the images, and the plaintiff’s screen reader could not describe the images, preventing the plaintiff from navigating to those pages. As well, the site had what are known as “redundant links,” and there were labels missing on form fields, which prevented the screen reader from telling the plaintiff what information was being requested.

But the simple fact that the plaintiff is not eligible to join the defendant’s credit union, because neither he nor one of his family members has ever worked for the Department of Labor, was enough for the Appeals Court to affirm the lower court’s dismissal of the suit.

“Our decision is not born of any lack of sympathy for people with visual impairments. Those who do not suffer from impairments of this nature must be alert and sensitive to the formidable challenges such impairments impose on the navigation of everyday life. We must be sensitive as well to the wealth of talent that, before the passage of the ADA, was locked behind society’s unthinking exclusion of people with disabilities. We thus recognize and respect the Americans with Disabilities Act’s transformative goal of “the elimination or reduction of physical and social structures that impede people with some present, past, or perceived impairments from contributing, according to their talents, to our Nation’s social, economic, and civic life,” the Appeals Court wrote. “But to ignore the requirement of an injury in fact in this case would be to transform constitutional standing into a null item. Spokeo requires a concrete and particularized harm to find Article III standing, something greater than ‘a bare procedural violation, divorced from any concrete harm.’ We are not at liberty to assail the basic principles of Spokeo here. Standing doctrine will doubtless pose complicated questions as it is applied to Internet-based harms in the future, but the case before us today is straightforward and narrow. Griffin is not a member of the Credit Union, he is not eligible to become a member of the Credit Union, he has no plans to become eligible to be a member of the Credit Union, and no action we take could possibly make him eligible to become a member of the Credit Union. Under these specific circumstances there can be no injury in fact. We have no occasion to consider here, for example, a case brought by a similarly disabled individual who was eligible for credit union membership in the defendant.”

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