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BOSTON-A federal judge’s decision not to dismiss a discrimination case against retailer Target Corp. for operating a Web site inaccessible to the blind opens the door to Internet-related Americans With Disabilities Act claims. The recent order is believed to the first ruling from a judge that the ADA can apply to the Internet, and lawyers from both sides of the bar anticipate more cases. “To limit the ADA to discrimination in the provision of services occurring on the premises of a public accommodation would contradict the plain language of that statute,” wrote U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, who sits in San Francisco. “To the extent defendant argues that plaintiffs’ claims are not cognizable because they occur away from a ‘place’ of public accommodation, defendant’s argument must fail.” Patel declined the National Federation of the Blind’s request for a preliminary injunction requiring Target to immediately update its site. She said that there is no emergency to address and that more discovery is needed to investigate Target’s claim that the average blind person is able to access its Web site now. National Federation of the Blind v. Target, No. 06-01802 (N.D. Calif.). Companies unaware There will be continued exploration of the applicability of the ADA and certain state laws to commercial Web sites, predicted Daniel F. Goldstein of Brown, Goldstein & Levy in Baltimore. Goldstein represents the plaintiff in the case, Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind. “It’s too important of an economic activity for the blind to be excluded,” Goldstein said. The federation, which filed the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of all blind people unable to access Target’s site, encourages members to report inaccessible Web sites. Companies are often unaware of the problem and usually quick to update their Web sites, but Minneapolis-based Target was one of the exceptions, said spokesman John Pare. The federation’s dispute with Target is not its first lawsuit seeking Internet access, but it’s the first to reach such an advanced stage, Pare said. Several years ago, the federation dropped an earlier lawsuit against America Online (before its absorption by Time Warner Inc.) when the company agreed to update the site. Although the federation declined to publicly name other potential lawsuit targets, it’s prepared for other court battles, Pare said. Although “disappointed” that the case was not entirely dismissed, Target said it is heartened by the court’s decision to deny the federation a preliminary injunction, according to a company statement. “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,” Target said. Al Mohajerian, whose Los Angeles-based Mohajerian Law Corp. handles many ADA cases, said “common sense” leads him to believe that making Web sites accessible to the blind will be required if compliance is not too expensive. “If you’re opening doors one way or the other for the public to do shopping, you have to consider the disabled,” Mohajerian said. The federation estimates that Target would need to spend between $20,000 to $40,000 to retrofit its Web site, but Pare said the extra work to make Web sites accessible at the beginning is “negligible.” Blind users need screen-reading software installed on their own computer to read accessible Web sites. Accessible sites include alt-text code, which allows the software to recite a description of graphic images. Pare also noted that offering online shopping is important to the blind, who often would otherwise need to rely on other people for rides or pay for transportation to get to a store. Plaintiffs’ lawyers with ADA experience also say the case may go in favor of the federation. Web sites for stores like Target are closely tied to their retail operation, which is defined by the law as a place of public accommodation, said attorney Barry Weintraub of Stafford, Va. Weintraub also noted that the ADA requires access rather than specific architectural features. “Just because you don’t have a per se violation like a ramp with too much of a slope, that doesn’t mean you can’t bring an action under the general provision of no discrimination,” Weintraub said.

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