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District court certifies nationwide class action against Target in website accessibility suit

Rejecting Target Corporation's motion to dismiss a group of plaintiffs' lawsuit for a lack of a cognizable claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a federal district court in California certified a nationwide class action on behalf of individuals in the United States who are legally blind who have attempted to access and as a result have been denied access to the enjoyment of goods and services offered in Target stores. Despite finding that the plaintiffs' class representative failed to demonstrate that his inability to access rendered him unable to access the goods and services at Target stores, the court ordered the plaintiffs to substitute a new class representative with respect to the ADA claims consistent within thirty days of the date of this order In addition, the district court certified a California subclass for claims arising under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act and the Disabled Persons Act for all individuals in California who are legally blind individuals and who have attempted to access (National Fed'n of the Blind v Target Corp, NDCal, 3:06-cv-01802-MHP, Motion for class certification October 2, 2007).

Named plaintiffs, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the National Federal of the Blind of California and class representative Bruce Sexton, filed a class action suit on behalf of all persons who are blind alleging that Target's website was not accessible to individuals who are blind. According to the plaintiffs' complaint, the website failed to meet the minimum standard of web accessibility. Specifically, the complaint alleged that Target's website lacked 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 complaint alleged that the website contained inaccessible image maps, which prevented customers who are blind from jumping to different destinations within the website. Because the website required the use of a mouse to complete a transaction, customers who are blind are unable to make purchases on Target's website independently. The plaintiffs are represented by: (1) Disability Rights Advocates, a Berkeley-based non-profit law firm that specializes in high-impact cases on behalf of people with disabilities; (2) Brown, Goldstein & Levy, a leading civil rights law firm in Baltimore, Maryland; and (3) Schneider & Wallace, a national plaintiff's class action and civil rights law firm based in San Francisco, California.

In so holding, the district court granted the plaintiffs' motion to certify the nationwide class under the ADA for injunctive relief. The court also granted the plaintiffs' motion to certify a California subclass for both injunctive relief and statutory minimum damages.

The President of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Marc Maurer, commented on the court's ruling: "This is a tremendous step forward for blind people throughout the country who for too long have been denied equal access to the Internet economy. All e-commerce businesses should take note of this decision and immediately take steps to open their doors to the blind."

Larry Paradis of Disability Rights Advocates, one of the lead counsel for the class, commented on the court's decision: "Target Corporation has led a battle against blind consumers in a key area of modern life: the Internet economy. The court's decision today makes clear that people with disabilities no longer can be treated as second-class citizens in any sphere of mainstream life. This ruling will benefit hundreds of thousands of Americans with disabilities."

The court certified, as counsel for the class, the following law firms: Disability Rights Advocates (see website), a Berkeley-based nonprofit law firm that specializes in high-impact cases on behalf of people with disabilities; Brown, Goldstein & Levy (see website), a leading civil rights law firm in Baltimore, Maryland; Schneider & Wallace (see website), a national plaintiffs' class action and civil rights law firm based in San Francisco, California; and Peter Blanck, chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute and university professor at Syracuse University.

Dan Goldstein of Brown, Goldstein & Levy noted that: "The blind of America seek only the same rights and opportunities as others take for granted. This case should be a wake-up call to all businesses that their services must be accessible to all." Josh Konecky of Schneider & Wallace also noted: "This has been a hard-fought case addressing fundamental issues of access and equality. The judge's decision today is a great step forward."

Carolyn Brookter from Target's Media Relations issued the following statement in response to the court's decision:

"While pleased that the court has dismissed Mr. Bruce Sexton's claim that is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we are disappointed that a class has been certified. Class certification is a procedural ruling only and in no way addresses the merit of the claims brought forward by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

Target is committed to serving all of our guests and we believe that our Web site is fully accessible and complies with all applicable laws. As our online business has evolved, we have made significant enhancements to improve the experience of our guests who use assistive technologies. In fact, an internal NFB e-mail, only produced by the NFB during the discovery phase of these proceedings, confirms the usability of our Web site. Further, in nearly a year and half of litigation, the NFB has been able to produce only one individual, Mr. Bruce Sexton, to act as a class representative and his ADA claim has been dismissed.

We will request an immediate review of the ruling granting class certification and we are confident that we will prevail on the merits of this case. Regardless of the outcome, accessibility will remain a priority for Target and we will continue to implement new technologies to enhance the usability of our Web site for all of our guests."

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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