The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, offered historic protection to the disabled and prohibited discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations. The law forced many needed changes in our public life. However, one unintended consequence was the creation of a cottage industry of legal claims and lawsuits filed against websites, large and small, over their perceived failure to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled as mandated by the ADA. A number of these suits have been characterized as abusive and mere shakedowns by the defense bar. In Winegard v. Newsday, 19-CV-04420(EK), the plaintiff, Jay Winegard, was a hearing impaired individual who was a user of the website, www.newsday.com. Newsday is a local New York newspaper that offers both a traditional print newspaper and a website featuring news content and certain videos. Mr. Winegard alleged that he was unable to receive the benefit of specific posted videos because the website lacked closed captioning. On that basis, suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York claiming various violations of the ADA.
In his review of Winegard’s complaint, District Judge Eric Komitee focused on the question of whether a website, standing alone, fit within the definition of a “public accommodation” under the ADA. After considering the decades-long evolution of the term “public accommodation” he concluded that website, without a connection to a physical facility was not covered by the ADA. This decision is the first holding by a New York District Court focused on the issue of defining a public accommodation under the ADA. In dismissing the complaint, Judge Komitee concluded that it was up to Congress, and not the courts, to expand the scope of the ADA to cover similar websites.