We’ve written about the need for cannabis companies to mind the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) before, and, as evidenced by a recent filing against Good Guy Vapes Int LLC (“Good Guy”), the complaints haven’t slowed down. Cannabis company operators large and small should be aware of the growing trend of federal class action lawsuits claiming business websites and point-of-sale terminals that allegedly violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).
As a refresher, the ADA requires all businesses to remove any obstacle that interferes with a disabled person’s ability to access their products or services online. Under the ADA, “a business may have discriminated against handicapped individuals when they construct and maintain quote on quote architectural barriers which prevent disabled people from enjoying the business as any other person.”
The Good Guy complaint
Earlier this month, a class action complaint was filed against Good Guy Vapes Int LLC in New York federal court. Plaintiff Luigi Abreu is identified as a visually-impaired and legally blind person. The Complaint alleges Good Guy Vapes failed to design and operate its website to be independently usable by Abreu and others like him who read screen-reading software. In trying to purchase products from the website, Abreu encountered:
- The screen reader fails to read advertisement pop up links;
- The screen reader repeats the website name whenever another link is not selected;
- The screen reader fails to read the link found on the promotional images;
- The screen reader fails to describe the images;
- The screen reader abruptly stops functioning in the middle of a sentence or speech;
- The screen reader skips over certain text on the page;
- The screen reader fails to read the item description links; and
- The screen reader fails to read the “cart” link when a new item is added.
The Complaint cites to the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”), which is a set of well-established guidelines created to make sure websites are accessible. Here, Abreu claims he “encountered multiple access barriers that denied [him] full and equal access to the goods and/or services offered to (and made available for) the general public.”
The equivalent New York statute
And for our New York folks specifically – Abreu includes a second state law claim for a violation of the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y.C. Administrative Code Sections 8-1010, et seq. Section 8-107(4)(a) provides:
“It shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice for any person, being the owner, franchisor, franchisee, lessor, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee of any place or provider of public accommodation, because of . . . disability . . . directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from or deny to such person, the full and equal enjoyment on equal terms and conditions, of any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges of the place or provide of public accommodation.”
What your cannabis company needs to know
These lawsuits have typically been brought by groups of visually-impaired consumers who claim that a certain website fails to accommodate their disability. If a claim is successful, the defendant can be required to perform all sorts of mitigating actions. These include things like incurring the cost of redesigning its website or point-of-sale system to comply, and pay the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and costs. And in New York, plaintiffs can additionally ask for civil penalties, fines, and punitive damages, which is exactly what Abreu did here. All in all, these lawsuits also can become very costly, very fast.
We want to remind everyone the importance of making sure that your cannabis business is staying up to date on what the ADA requires. Everyone should implement practices to ensure their systems are updated. Compliance is key here.