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Beyond the Big Apple: ADA Litigation Over Gift Cards Without Braille Has Jumped to the West Coast

New York City has historically been one of the most popular forums in the country for filing Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) lawsuits, and most recently is the site of hundreds of new ADA claims against business for failing to sell gift cards that contain writing in Braille.

About three years ago, there was a shift from almost all ADA cases containing allegations regarding the lack of architectural accessibility to a new generation of plaintiffs filing cases involving the auxiliary aids and service provisions of the ADA (i.e., provisions to accommodate persons with vision, hearing and speech limiting disabilities).  Many of these new cases involve allegations of businesses’ websites not being accessible to blind users.  Perhaps caused in part by the availability of damages under New York State and New York City law, many hundreds of these website lawsuits have been filed in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) with additional lawsuits having been filed in the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and New York State courts.  Now the focus has shifted and over the past two weeks over 100 lawsuits have been filed in the New York City districts, mostly in the SDNY with a few in the EDNY, against businesses in the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries claiming violations of the ADA, New York State and New York City laws, for failing to sell gift cards that contain the issuing business’ name and initial denomination in Braille. These cases are imposing a heavy legal burden, and an unfortunate, ill-timed distraction, for the affected industries who would otherwise be preparing for the upcoming holiday season.

While this large number of filings of gift card lawsuits have caused many national (and local) businesses to focus their attention on New York and New York courts, an oncoming storm of California litigation may be on its way with indications that the barrage of Braille gift card cases is no longer limited to New York.  We are starting to see claims being made in California for violations of California’s Unruh Act for businesses allegedly selling gift cards that do not contain Braille.  California, like New York, has historically been considered a hot bed for ADA litigation, likely due in part to the availability of damages under its Unruh Act.  Unlike New York, which has no minimum on the amount of damages that may be awarded, the Unruh Act provides for treble actual damages but no less than $4000 per occurrence in addition to attorneys’ fees for a prevailing plaintiff.

The fact that there is such a large number of these gift card lawsuits being filed does not mean that they have legal merit.  Nevertheless, businesses should review their policies to ensure their goods and services are accessible to persons with vision impairments, consistent with their obligations under the ADA. 

©2019 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

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About this Author

Robert Fine, Greenberg Traurig Law Firm, Miami, Construction, Environmental and Real Estate Law Attorney
Shareholder

Robert Fine Chairs the ADA, Accessibility, Building & Life Safety Codes Practice and is a board certified construction law attorney and a Florida-registered, nationally certified architect. His practice focuses on land use, zoning, historic preservation, environmental, and administrative law. Robert’s work ranges from representation before local governments for zoning and other development approvals to building code appeals, code enforcement and unsafe structure defense; and at a state level, petitions for declaratory statements, lobbying for and challenging building...

305-579-0826
Karin Bohmholdt Greenberg Traurig  Shareholder Appellate Litigation Fiduciary Litigation Financial Services Litigation
Shareholder

Karin Bohmholdt is Co-Chair of Greenberg Traurig’s Los Angeles Litigation Practice with a primary focus on appellate practice at both the state and federal levels. Following a clerkship with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Ms. Bohmholdt obtained experience in a wide variety of litigation and appellate areas, including real estate disputes, class actions, employment matters, securities law, ADA matters, intellectual property matters, public entity representation, and Federal False Claims actions. Ms. Bohmholdt's appellate experience also includes obtaining and defending orders compelling arbitration; agency appeals; wide-ranging motion practice in the state and federal appellate courts; and writ and permissive appeal practice in state and federal court.

Ms. Bohmholdt also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, teaching Appellate Advocacy and Legal Drafting, and she is a member of the American Bar Association’s Council of Appellate Lawyers.

310-586-3819
Eric Sigda, Greenberg Traurig Law Firm, New York, Labor and Employment Law Attorney
Shareholder

Eric B. Sigda is a shareholder in Greenberg Traurig’s Labor & Employment Practice. He represents management in litigating federal and state employment matters including claims involving allegations of discrimination, harassment, whistleblowing, Sarbanes-Oxley retaliation, breach of contract, wage and hour class actions, misappropriation of trade secrets and violations of restrictive covenants. Eric has handled matters in federal and state courts and in arbitration. He has also represented clients before various agencies including the Equal Employment Opportunity...

212-801-9386
Robert S. Galbo Greenberg Traurig Litigation ADA, Accessibility, Building & Life Safety Codes
Associate

Robert S. Galbo concentrates his practice on complex commercial, business, class action, and products liability litigation in federal and state courts. Mr. Galbo has experience representing clients in a wide array of disputes involving commercial transactions, breaches of contract, business torts, fraud, and deceptive and unfair trade practices. Mr. Galbo has broad experience in representing clients in putative class action lawsuits. He also has experience conducting internal and regulatory investigations for public and private companies in connection with, among other things, government...

305-579-0612