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EMPLOYMENT LAW ó 3/30/06

Target Corporation sued for discriminating against persons who are blind

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) has filed a class action lawsuit in California's Alameda County Courthouse against Target Corporation, the nationwide discount retailer which operates more than 1,300 stores in 47 states. The suit --brought by the NFB, the NFB of California and Bruce "BJ" Sexton, a blind student going to school at the University of California Berkeley --alleges that Target's website violates the California Unruh Civil Rights Act and the California Disabled Persons Act because it is inaccessible to persons who are blind.

The plaintiffs are represented by Disability Rights Advocates, a Berkeley-based non-profit law firm that specializes in high-impact cases on behalf of people with disabilities, Schneider & Wallace, a plaintiff's class action and civil rights law firm in San Francisco, California and Brown, Goldstein & Levy a leading civil rights law firm in Baltimore, Maryland.

Online services at issue. "Blind customers should have the same access to Target's online services that Target offers its sighted customers," stated NFB President Dr. Marc Maurer. Dr. Maurer explained that persons who are blind access websites by using keyboards in conjunction with screen-reading software which vocalizes visual information on a computer screen. However, Target's website --which according to its home page is "powered by Amazon.com" --contains significant access barriers that prevent customers who are blind from: (1) browsing and purchasing products online; and (2) finding important corporate information, such as employment opportunities, investor news and company policies.

The plaintiffs contend that Target's website fails to meet the minimum standard of web accessibility. Specifically, they allege that the website lacks compliant alt-text and an invisible code embedded beneath graphic images (which allows screen readers to detect and vocalize a description of the image to a blind computer user). Further, the plaintiffs argue that the website contains inaccessible image maps, which prevent customers who are blind from jumping to different destinations within the website. Because the website requires the use of a mouse to complete a transaction, customers who are blind are unable to make purchases on Target's website independently.

"We tried to convince Target that it should make its website accessible through negotiations," explained Dr. Maurer. "It's unfortunate that Target was unwilling to commit to equal access for all its online customers. That gave us no choice but to seek the protection of the court. The website is no more accessible today than it was in May of last year, when we first complained to Target."

Grounds for lawsuit. Explaining the grounds for the NFB suit, Mazen M. Basrawi, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Disability Rights Advocates, noted that Target's actions are in violation of California law, which in turn incorporates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He explained that, "Target.com is a 'public place' within the meaning of California Civil Code because it is open to the public, and because the laws apply to all services related to Target stores, including the website." Simply put, Target is a retail outlet, a public place, with a public website. The retail outlet is a store, and the website is a service provided by and integrated with the brick-and-mortar stores," Basrawi contined.

The complaint, filed on February 7, 2006, in California Superior Court for Alameda County seeks to enjoin Target from continued violation of the California Civil Code. The suit asks the court to declare that Target is operating its website in a manner that discriminates against the blind and persons with visual disabilities in violation of California law. The complaint also seeks damages for the plaintiffs.

"I want to be able to shop online at Target.com just like anyone else," says UC Berkeley student BJ Sexton, who is a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. "I believe that millions of blind people like me can use the internet just as easily as do the sighted, if the website is accessible."

SOURCE: The National Federation of the Blind

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