Target lawsuit settled

Target and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) have settled the lawsuit regarding accessibility of the Target.com web site. You can read the final settlement here.

A summary of the settlement

  • Target makes no admission or concession that its website is or ever was inaccessible.
  • Target admits no violations of the ADA or any other law.
  • The website will be brought into compliance with the Target Online Assistive Technology Guidelines (2MB Word Doc) and will be certified by NFB as compliant with these guidelines. NFB will monitor compliance over 3 years from initial certification.
  • Target will pay NFB $90,000 for the certification and first year of monitoring and then $40,000 per year thereafter.
  • Target’s web developers will receive at least one day of accessibility training, to be provided by NFB at a cost of up to $15,000 per session.
  • Target will respond to accessibility complaints from web site users.
  • Target will pay damages of $6,000,000 to the class action claimants, or at most $7000 per claimant, and will pay $20,000 to the California Center for the Blind on behalf of the primary claimant, Bruce Sexton, Jr.
  • Payment of legal fees is yet to be determined.

Additional details on the lawsuit are available on the Disability Rights Advocates web site.

My thoughts on the settlement

While this is a great victory for the NFB and the claimants, I think the majority of the accessibility community was hoping for some long-awaited case law that might better define the relationship of the Internet and the Americans with Disabilities Act. While there have been many lawsuits claiming discrimination under the ADA because of inaccessible web sites, there is virtually no case law that clarifies that the ADA applies to web sites. This settlement clearly provides no additional insight into this matter. Instead of corporations receiving clarification that they are ALL legally obligated to make their web sites accessible, they can now take comfort in the fact that if they aren’t big/rich enough for NFB or others to engage in a complicated and expensive lawsuit, that they can maintain the status quo of, at best, marginal accessibility.

I also believe the 6 million dollar settlement to be rather insignificant for a corporation that had $63 billion in revenue and $3 billion in net income in 2007. Still, the settlement amount is significantly more than what it would have cost Target to implement a high level of accessibility in the first place.

Additionally, there is no indication that the Target accessibility guidelines include anything much that would benefit anyone except blind users. While the NFB is a blind advocacy group, the scope of changes required are very minimal.

UPDATE: Since originally writing this post, the guidelines were made available. There are a few requirements, while primarily intended for blind and low vision users, that may provide benefits to those with other disabilities.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled with the outcome and I do think it will motivate the largest corporate retailers to take accessible a bit more seriously, but without clarification of their true legal obligation, I fear the influence of this settlement will not be very significant.

Comments

  1. Jason

    Absolutely rediculous.

  2. Tim

    Sounds like corporate interests dodged a bullet. Shame they would rather litigate than focus their effort towards designing/providing accessible, code compliant web sites.

  3. Jim Thatcher

    I don’t think it is ridiculous! All the documents are available on the DRA website, http://dralegal.org including the Target guidelines. These are consistent with priority 1 WCAG 1.0 guidelines and Section 508 standards and they include keyboard access and advice on Ajax. The key law in this case is not the ADA, but the California version, the Unruh Act, which does mention the web and which provides for damages.

  4. Mike

    Wow, remember when extortion was illegal? What a complete disgrace.

  5. Kel Smith

    The important precedent set is that a commercial retailer of Target’s scope and stature can be sued in a California court for providing an inaccessible website. Perhaps one day a more definitive nexus will be formed between the ADA’s interpretation of public accommodation and the digital Web experience.

  6. ray

    Tim… you’ve got it backwards. Companies settle when they DON’T want to litigate. It is
    much cheaper that way. And Target could easily have put money into accessible
    coding. But the NFB sued them. They had no choice but to put their lawyers into
    defending them in this case. So if you’re concerned about companies putting their
    funds in the wrong places, you should discourage all such lawsuits by disability
    groups.

  7. Dave

    Hey ray,
    It seems the question is whether the NFB asked nicely first and Target said no, or did they sue as their first response…

  8. Jared Smith

    Dave-

    I’m not intimately familiar with the case, but it is my understanding that requests and complaints were made and that Target essentially dug in their heals and indicated they did not have to and had no interest in making their site accessible. In this case, I do think litigation was the only way to influence the necessary change.

    However, and going back to my main point, if the legal requirements for web accessibility were better defined through case law, then Target would clearly be legally obligated to be accessible. Until we get this clarification, unfriendly corporations will need to be sued in order to become accessible, but these cases are always settled, which results in no case law, which requires additional lawsuits… Do you start to see why I’m disappointed that this very significant case was settled?

  9. Bob Easton

    It’s good to see this case ended. Target did the smart thing by getting it off their back without admitting any wrongdoing. They got back to business, after a misguided period of resistance, and actually ended up doing the right thing for people with disabilities. The best part of the settlement is that it failed to conclusively extend the ADA to the Internet. I’ve written more about the settlement at http://www.access-matters.com/2008/08/29/target-lawsuit-settled-exactly-as-it-should-be/

  10. Stephen Dolle

    This case did nothing but “delay” the key issues for some other group to litigate. But who might have more resources and fervor than the AFB? Clearly, the AFB sold out. If you feel you have a legitimate cause, you must fight for it. What would have happened to the 1960s civil rights movement if those involved accepted “go away money?”

  11. Ryan Jean

    Which web accessibility checker did they use?

    Ryan

  12. Rick Bowes

    Stephen says “Clearly, the AFB sold out”. The AFB (American Foundation for the Blind) was not the organization engaged in this case, it was the NFB (National Federation of the Blind). Two very different organizations.

  13. James Pepper

    We have to take what we can get and this will be used as a precedent.

    I made the National Voter Registration form accessible to the blind and had it checked by the Amrican Foundation for the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind and Jim Dickson of the American Association of People with Disbilities presented it to the EAC, the Elections Assistance Commission but still they would not use it. So millions of blind people had to get someone to help them fill out their voter registration forms. The states assumed they could not do it themselves. The states simply refused to acknowledge that they were required to be accessible, the State of Washington put it in writing, they beleive they are not required to make voter registration forms accessible to the blind even though it is specifically written in several laws going back 35 years.

    States are willing to deny people their right to vote because they see no need to help them. What chance do you have enforcing ADA law i these same states. Yes we have accessible voting machines but if you are not registered to vote, you can’t use them.

    Of course this is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and that law if far more comprehensive than ADA. The Voting Rights Act enables the Integration clauses of the Civil Rights Act and that applies to everyone in the state no matter if they are public or private entities. The enforcement of the Voting Rights Act can cause the states to loose representation in Congress and the US District Court in DC can redistrict the entire state. So you would think disability rights groups would be interested in this but they just do not want to do it.

    They do not have the nerve.

  14. Nate

    To all the good folks that think this lawsuit and settlement is ridiculous:
    If, by the grace of God, you are able to live your life with all of your physical and
    mental faculties intact, you are truly blessed. There are significant and real challenges
    that those with disabilities face in everyday life. These people deserve to have the
    same quality of life and opportunities that everyone else enjoys and no less. It
    seems a small request to me for Target to create an accessible website that will be a
    benefit to many, many blind people. What’s the harm in that?

  15. JT

    I’m in a wheelchair, and the local Police Department won’t hire me as a Patrolman. I guess I should be able to file a lawsuit. boo hoo for me

    This is just a group of Trial Lawyers hiding behing the name “National Feferation for the Blind” they are becoming Filthy rich by filing ADA lawsuits. Blind people cannot get a Driver’s License either, maybe they should be able to suit for that also.

  16. Aaron Kelly

    Came across your site while doing some research on ADA. I’m a big fan of ray kurzweil, and I know he was working on something that would help people be able to access websites that are visually impaired, not sure how far he’s gotten with it. And you’re right, 6 million is nothing for a huge corp like target. Anyway, keep up the good work!

  17. Aaron Englert the Debt Professor

    $6 million is peanuts to a company the size of target, but will definitely go a long way the the NFB.

  18. Jessica McNally

    Can’t wait to see RedTube become handi-accesible for the blind. I disagree with the case, Target wasn’t hurting anyone, they shoudln’t have been sued. I am disabled when it comes to math, I just don’t understand strong induction, should I sue my university for my disability? If everyone got what they want, I never would of seen this post. If I was a blind person I imagine I would feel awkward about the whole thing, getting your way after yelling at people doesn’t make anyone feel good. The whole thing just sucks.

  19. Jessica McNally

    Okay I have had more time to think about this…this is not a litigation issue so much as it is an issue with Technical Standards. It was wrong Target had to go to trial. My background is in Computing, and while there is enough white paper with policy deifinitions to cover America, the truth is what actualy defines the standards the Internet (everything from VOIP, Ethernet, Satalite Communication, etc.) can fit in the first half of the Encyclopedia Britianaca.

    Everyone does have the right to feel good, if you want to change the standards do it from the Technical perspective, not the legal one:

    http://www.rfc-editor.org/