A group of 19 state attorneys general are calling on the Department of Justice to help credit unions in the fight against frivolous lawsuits alleging CUs websites are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and signed by the attorneys general of 18 states plus the District of Columbia, the AGs ask the DOJ to “draft and promulgate regulations pertaining to web accessibility standards under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act.” The signers say the ADA has been “instrumental” in providing protection for individuals with disabilities, but when it comes to web accessibility standards, “the ADA does not provide clear guidance to the public or regulated entities.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions

“This void in law has led to unnecessary lawsuits in an effort to exploit the law’s ambiguity for financial gain with little or no corresponding benefit to consumers,” the AGs assert in the letter.

These lawsuits, the letter continues, target a number of industries, including credit unions, community banks, retailers and other business of a variety of sizes, with “questionable legal theories.” In addition, law firms are sending demand letters asserting violations of the ADA based on alleged improper web accessibility. “Given the uncertainty in the law, these businesses are often forced to pay the demand letter or settle the case,” the AGs note. “This drives up the cost of doing business, while providing no clear benefit to individuals the ADA is meant to protect.”

According to the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, CUs in more than half of all states have been hit with demand letters from law firms claiming the CUs’ websites violate ADA requirements.

The ADA “does not provide clear guidance regarding web accessibility,” the AGs’ letter states, while pointing out this lack of clarity is behind a “significant split” among the courts over the proper standard for web accessibility, “including whether websites should even be considered places of accommodation.”

The United States Department of Justice “is the proper agency with legal authority to issue regulations under the ADA and to provide needed clarity,” the AGs wrote. They note the DOJ issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on the topic in July 2010, but the proposed regulation was withdrawn on Dec. 26, 2017, and no other proposed regulation has been issued.

“Based on the current legal uncertainty, surrounding ADA web accessibility, the undersigned Attorneys General respectfully request that DOJ issue a proposed rule to provide exact standards for web accessibility, and provide any guidance in the interim. Such a regulation will provide much needed legal certainty and predictability, which in turn will benefit consumers and businesses alike,” the letter concludes.

The letter is signed by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin, plus the District of Columbia.

The letter by the AGs was sent almost exactly one month after more than 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to AG Sessions and the DOJ on the same topic.

As Credit Union Journal has reported, while CUs across the country continue to be targeted in suits alleging ADA violations, some CUs have seen some victories thus far, with a few cases being thrown out after judges ruled the plaintiff lacked the standing to sue, since he or she was unable to join the credit union.

Both the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions and the Credit Union National Association have been active on the ADA front throughout the year, filing a slew of amicus briefs and meeting with regulators and lawmakers in an effort to try to solve the issue.

More of Credit Union Journal’s coverage on ADA can be found here.

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