First Pencil: The Domino's Pizza Decision and Why It Matters to Auto Dealers

The proliferation of small type in online ads and social media could make dealers more vulnerable to digital accessibilities lawsuits, filing of which should increase thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court just did something that should make your stomach turn the next time you are in the mood for Domino's Pizza. Actually, it's what the high court didn't do that will have you reaching for an antacid.

See, Dominos was sued three years ago by Guillermo Robles under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The pizza chain's customer charged that Domino's failed to design its website and web app to accommodate screen-reading software that could read and vocalize contents. This, he alleged, prevented him from taking advantage of the chain's online discounts after he was unable to order pizza online on two occasions.

Dominos argued that the ADA applies to its store but not its website.

Hansel Toyota's DealerFire website, an example of web accessibility certification by AudioEye
Pictured is Hansel Toyota's DealerFire website, which touts web accessibility certification by AudioEye. DealerSocket announced in August a new pact with the Tucson, Ariz.-based company to provide DealerFire customers with the option to include its Ally Managed Service Solution. The end-to-end web-accessibility solution is designed to help DealerFire websites comply with requirements set forth by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. Although the ADA does not directly address websites, mobile apps, or other web-based technologies, the appellate court ruled that the chain's website and app provided a way for customers to access its physical storefronts for delivery and pickup. This "nexus" put Robles' complaint under the purview of the ADA.

Domino's then asked the Supreme Court to rule that the ADA does not cover the internet.

The high court declined the pizza chain's appeal on Oct. 7. The decision clears the way for the more than 2,250 digital accessibilities lawsuits expected to be filed this year.

For California dealers, the Supreme Court's decision is especially damaging. That's because California law, according to Auto Dealer Compliance's Randy Henrick, sets a minimum dollar amount for damages of $4,000 plus attorney's fees for each violation of the ADA. Most other states don't have a minimum and only allow for equitable relief to be sought. However, businesses located in all but 12 states have paid between $10,000 and more than $90,000 to resolve website-related lawsuits and threats of lawsuits.

Now consider the special internet pricing you might be advertising on your site, the digital retailing tools you may offer, all those vehicle details pages you've created, and the fine print explaining rebate and incentive eligibility. If you employ any of that on your site, you could be a target, Henrick says.

What makes compliance tough is the definition of "disability" in the ADA is broad. Keep in mind it's a legal term, not a medical term. That's significant, because the ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment "that substantially limits one or more major life activity functions," Henrick notes, adding that this includes people who have a record of such impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person's association with a person with a disability.

"With the Supreme Court letting the Domino's decision stand, I would expect more of these suits to be filed by the plaintiff's bar," Henrick says. "Whether and to what extent auto dealers will be targeted is uncertain, but I think they have the same exposure as other retailers and the proliferation of small type in online ads and social media may make them more vulnerable."

The big concern here is there is no standard for compliance. Yup, it's a moving target.

The Obama administration's Department of Justice was in the process of developing precise standards for making websites ADA compliant. Four Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking were issued in 2010. Henrick says it is likely those standards would have been less costly and complex than the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which is the standard followed by the European Union and other countries since 1999.

The Trump administration, however, withdrew those notices as part of its deregulation stance. That's why this Domino's case is something to watch, and why DealerSocket chose AudioEye as its web accessibility partner.

Under that pact, DealerFire websites now support AudioEye's Ally Toolbar, which allows users with disabilities to have text read to them or played automatically. The solution, which conforms with WCAG 2.0 standards, also offers automatic captioning and voice-enabled site navigation.

So, you've been warned. The good news for DealerFire customers is we got your digital front door covered.



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