Charlotte Lanvers, DREDF Staff Attorney
V: 510-644-2555, ext. 5231
Federal District Court in Massachusetts Makes Precedent-Setting Decision Holding that the Americans with Disabilities Act Applies to Website-Only Businesses
Judge Denies Netflix’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Allows Disability Civil Rights Case, National Association of the Deaf, et al. v. Netflix, Case No. 3:11-cv-30168, to Move Forward
(June 19, 2012) The National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the nation’s premier civil rights organization of deaf and hard of hearing individuals, secured a precedent-setting order in the District Court of Massachusetts, which held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to website-only businesses. NAD won a major victory today when Judge Ponsor denied defendant Netflix’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings seeking dismissal of the case. The underlying lawsuit alleges that Netflix violates the ADA by failing to provide closed captioning on most of its “Watch Instantly” programming streamed on the Internet, thereby denying equal access to the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Netflix argued that the ADA applies only to physical places and therefore could not apply to website-only businesses such as Netflix’s Watch Instantly streaming service. Judge Ponsor stated that it would be “irrational to conclude” that: “places of public accommodation are limited to actual physical structures…In a society in which business is increasingly conducted online, excluding businesses that sell services through the Internet from the ADA would run afoul of the purposes of the ADA and would severely frustrate Congress’s intent that individuals with disabilities fully enjoy the goods, services, privileges and advantages, available indiscriminately to other members of the general public.”
Moreover, Judge Ponsor stated that the fact that the ADA “does not include web-based services as a specific example of a public accommodation is irrelevant,” since such web-based services did not exist when the ADA was passed in 1990 and because “the legislative history of the ADA makes clear that Congress intended the ADA to adapt to changes in technology.”
Arlene Mayerson, Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund’s Directing Attorney, stated, “By recognizing that websites are covered by the ADA, the court has ensured that the ADA stays relevant as much of our society moves from Main Street to the Internet. Netflix’s argument that the neighborhood video store is covered by the ADA, but that a website-only video service is not, with its over 20 million subscribers, was soundly rejected by the court.”
“This victory guarantees that the ADA will continue to be a powerful force in our rapidly changing lives, protecting our right to equal access to web-based businesses,” said NAD President Bobbie Beth Scoggins. “This ruling ensures the ADA remains current and makes it possible for people with disabilities to have full access to the same programs and services available to everyone else,” added NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum.
Netflix had argued that the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) “carves out” all video programming streamed on the Internet from the ADA. The CVAA was enacted, among other purposes, to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications, requiring captions on some televised content later streamed on the Internet. Judge Ponsor found that the CVAA does not “carve out” streaming programming from the ADA because there is “no conflict between the statutes” and there is no indication from Congress to the contrary.
The Order is available here: Order.
In addition to NAD, other plaintiffs include the Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired (WMAD/HI) and a deaf Massachusetts resident.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund in Berkeley, CA, the Oakland, CA law firm Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C., and the Boston, MA law firm Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.
The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and NAD ask deaf and hard of hearing individuals who want to learn more about the lawsuit to visit: dredf.org/captioning, call the toll-free number 1-800-348-4232 (V), or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Association of the Deaf (NAD)
The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation’s premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States of America. NAD represents the estimated 36 million Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing and is based in Washington, DC. www.nad.org
Western Massachusetts Association of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired (WMAD)
WMAD is an advocacy membership organization for individuals who are deaf and hearing impaired in western Massachusetts.
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
Founded in 1979, by people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) is a national law and policy center based in Berkeley, CA and is dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities. www.dredf.org.
Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C.
Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C. is a national law firm based in Oakland, CA that represents plaintiffs in ERISA employee benefit and pension litigation, Civil Rights litigation, and Wage and Hour Overtime litigation. www.lewisfeinberg.com
Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.
SRBC is a Boston-based civil litigation firm with 26 lawyers and more than 80 years of success in managing complex cases for local, regional and national clients. www.srbc.com