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Court: Accessibility lawsuit against Target can proceed

The suit claims that the retailer's Web site discriminates against blind patrons

By Carol Sliwa and Linda Rosencrance
September 8, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A federal judge in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that a lawsuit filed against Minneapolis-based Target Corp. by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) regarding the accessibility of the retailer's Web site can move forward.

According to the NFB, the ruling sets a precedent establishing that retailers must make their Web sites accessible to the blind under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"This ruling is a great victory for blind people throughout the country," said NFB President Marc Maurer. "We are pleased that the court recognized that the blind are entitled to equal access to retail Web sites."

When asked if the NFB would file lawsuits against other online retailers and sites, spokesman John Pare said, "You probably could imagine that we would."

John Dozier, an attorney at Dozier Internet Law PC in Glen Allen, Va., said the decision will prompt other companies to pay attention to the issues involved and modify their Web sites.

The lawsuit was filed as a class action on behalf of all blind Americans who are being denied access to The plaintiffs in the case -- the NFB, the NFB of California and blind college student Bruce "BJ" Sexton -- claimed that the retailer's Web site is inaccessible to the blind, in violation of federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities.

Target filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the laws in question don't apply to Web sites because they aren't "physical" places of public accommodation. The retailer further claimed that applying California statutes to its Web site, which is accessible to consumers nationwide, would violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The NFB filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, asking the court to order Target to make its Web site accessible promptly. The judge denied that motion, however, because it would be premature for the court to rule on an injunction, since there are sufficient questions raised with respect to whether the average blind person is able to access Target's Web site.

"While disappointed the lawsuit was not entirely dismissed, Target is pleased with the court's decision to deny the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction," the retailer said in a statement e-mailed to Computerworld. "We believe our Web site complies with all applicable laws and are committed to vigorously defending this case. We will continue to implement technology that increases the usability of our Web site for all our guests, including those with disabilities."

Mazen Basrawi, a lawyer at Berkeley, Calif.-based Disability Rights Advocates, a co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said: "This is groundbreaking. No court has yet ruled directly that the ADA applies to Web sites, which she [Judge Marilyn Hall Patel] has clearly done in this opinion. We hope that it [this case] is going to encourage businesses to include accessibility in their Web development."

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