New York Court Dismisses Website Accessibility Lawsuit Against Small Business

A recent decision by the Supreme Court of New York County may provide some relief for small business owners who have been hit with lawsuits alleging that their websites are not accessible to individuals with disabilities. The case, Rodriguez v. Bitchin’ Inc., was one of over 40 nearly identical lawsuits filed by the same plaintiff in 2023 against various website owners and operators. For the record, I love defendant’s dipping sauce, Bitchin’ Sauce.

The visually impaired plaintiff claimed that the defendant’s website contained “access barriers” that prevented him and other visually impaired individuals from purchasing products, in violation of New York State and City human rights laws. However, the plaintiff admitted that he never notified the defendant about these alleged issues or requested any accommodations before filing suit. 

In dismissing the complaint, the court found that the plaintiff failed to state a claim under either disparate treatment or disparate impact theories of discrimination. For disparate treatment, the plaintiff could not show that the defendant was even aware of his disability, let alone that it intentionally discriminated against him because of it. As for disparate impact, the court held that the mere operation of the website itself could not constitute a “policy” or “practice” subject to such a claim – the technical issues alone were not enough.

While website accessibility is an important goal, this case highlights the need for a balanced approach that doesn’t unfairly burden small businesses. Owners can’t address barriers to access if they are unaware of them. Hopefully, this decision will help curb some of the more opportunistic litigation in this area while still encouraging open dialogue and reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities.