Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
That’s a quote from Ferris Bueller, but these days the sentiment is equally applicable to Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) Title III litigation in Florida. Just a few months ago, I was posting about ADA Title III web site accessibility lawsuits and making your web site accessible for the visually impaired. Now, the Plaintiffs’ Bar has moved on to the next wave of ADA Title III litigation.
The latest trend is ADA Title III litigation focused on hotel web sites and this type of litigation combines elements of past ADA Title III litigation in that it deals with the physical space at the hotel (ADA accessible rooms) as well as how those rooms are described on the hotel’s reservation system (which often, if not always, includes a web site) and how the rooms are reserved and held for guests.
These cases are being brought pursuant to 28 CFR 36.302(e) which provides:
(1) Reservations made by places of lodging. A public accommodation that owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of lodging shall, with respect to reservations made by any means, including by telephone, in-person, or through a third party –
(i) Modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as individuals who do not need accessible rooms;
(ii) Identify and describe accessible features in the hotels and guest rooms offered through its reservations service in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs;
(iii) Ensure that accessible guest rooms are held for use by individuals with disabilities until all other guest rooms of that type have been rented and the accessible room requested is the only remaining room of that type;
(iv) Reserve, upon request, accessible guest rooms or specific types of guest rooms and ensure that the guest rooms requested are blocked and removed from all reservations systems; and
(v) Guarantee that the specific accessible guest room reserved through its reservations service is held for the reserving customer, regardless of whether a specific room is held in response to reservations made by others.
(2) Exception. The requirements in paragraphs (iii), (iv), and (v) of this section do not apply to reservations for individual guest rooms or other units not owned or substantially controlled by the entity that owns, leases, or operates the overall facility.
(3) Compliance date. The requirements in this section will apply to reservations made on or after March 15, 2012.
At present, even though these regulations went into effect in 2012, there is limited case law interpreting how these regulations will be applied to hotels and other vacation rental facilities that are considered public accommodations. As such, best practices would require hotels to follow the regulations as written.
It should also be noted that Plaintiffs’ attorneys will likely eventually sue regarding individual units that are rented by owners on a VRBO or Air BnB type platform. Individual units are not exempt from the obligations set forth in subsections (i) and (ii).
Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Dori has in-depth experience counseling companies regarding ADA online access and defense of ADA website accessibility cases. Dori also defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims. You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.