A federal district court in Virginia on Friday dismissed the suit Carroll vs. Northwest Federal Credit Union, in which the plaintiff claimed the CU’s website was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, the court found the plaintiff to the lawsuit did not have standing to sue the credit union because he was not eligible for membership and would not likely use the credit union’s services.
In addition, the court indicated that a website is not a place of public accommodation, thus certain ADA protections were not triggered. In this case, NAFCU filed an amicus brief supporting the credit union.
“NAFCU is thrilled that the court agreed that there was no reason to sue our member here,” Dan Berger, NAFCU’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “We will continue to stand with our members in this fight.”
NAFCU labeled the news “a victory for credit unions facing litigation over unclear website requirements” under the ADA. NAFCU, the Credit Union National Association and many state leagues have been responding to a growing tide of demand letters, threat of litigation and, in some cases, lawsuits, relating to their websites. Indeed, many companies that have nothing to do with financial services have faced threats of suits, including Dominos and Hobby Lobby.
At the crux of the matter is an allegation the ADA covers websites and access to them. However, there is no clear law that spells out exactly what are website accessibility requirements. The Department of Justice recently withdrew two notices of proposed rulemaking that were related to the issue. In this gray area, some law firms have been sending demand letters to credit unions since spring 2017
The trade associations have repeatedly stated support the ADA and its intended purpose, but dispute that the ADA applies to websites. In many cases, the standing to sue by the alleged plaintiff has been questioned.
“NAFCU and its members strongly support the protections of the ADA and efforts to ensure individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against and have equal access to financial services. However, this is best achieved through clear guidance and standards for website compliance, not through meritless and costly lawsuits,” the trade association said.
NAFCU noted it has been active on ADA, engaging with various stakeholders on this issue, including with Congress, states' attorneys general and the Justice Department to clarify regulatory standards for websites.