ADA Suits Continue to Rise; Spread to Third State

The number of ADA suits filed in federal court against credit unions over their websites has risen to at least 34 and has spread to three states, according to court documents.

The cases began appearing in September in Virginia, where at least 25 credit unions have since been sued. In November, a different plaintiff represented by the same California-based law firm in the Virginia cases sued at least four credit unions in Georgia.

Next up appears to be Michigan, where at least five credit unions have been sued since the beginning of this month. Those cases involve a third plaintiff who is represented by the law firm associated with the Virginia and Georgia cases.

“Michigan credit unions—like those across the nation—have become increasingly frustrated with the tactics of a small number of law firms who are sending generic demand letters for alleged credit union ADA website violations,” Michigan Credit Union League & Affiliates CEO Dave Adams told CU Times.

“Ultimately, credit unions and banks need the Department of Justice to issue the rules that have been pending since 2010 and create a safe harbor so that the industry won’t be exposed to these types of frivolous allegations,” he added. 

Much of the disagreement revolves around whether and how the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to websites. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability for equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations in public places. The plaintiffs in the credit union cases have claimed that, among other things, failing to embed code that allows screen readers to vocalize descriptions of graphics on credit union websites, as well as having redundant links and empty or missing form labels constitute discrimination and prevent visually impaired users from looking for locations or learning about credit unions’ services and amenities, according to the complaints.

The industry has been scrambling to cope with the onslaught of legal action. There are questions, however, about whether credit unions must comply with Department of Justice rules some say are ambiguous, not final or don’t apply to websites, or whether another set of standards developed by a group named the World Wide Web Consortium applies. According to court filings, at least one credit union has argued that those other standards, called Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA, are not the law, however.

Nonetheless, experts have been advising credit unions to review their websites, and more resources appear to be going toward site testing. Last week, for example, Livonia, Michigan-based CUSO CU Solutions Group announced a partnership with Tucson, Arizona-based technology company AudioEye to­­­­­ provide accessibility testing for credit union websites. The arrangement includes a tool that provides a dyslexic font, color contrast adjustments, font size and navigation considerations, keyboard controls, a player feature that reads site content aloud, and voice-command navigation abilities. 

“The recent firestorm created by the ADA regulations, the ambiguity around what compliance means and the unfortunate, opportunistic lawsuits that are seemingly instigated by bad actors who are trying to cash in on the current nebulous regulatory guidance, all point to the need for service providers like CUSG to lend a helping hand with audit tools that reduce the risks associated with noncompliance,” CU Solutions Group President and CEO Dave Adams said. 

“While digital compliance ambiguities remain, this partnership was formed to protect credit unions against potential lawsuits or demand letters,” the company added.

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