WWE has been served a lawsuit for allegedly denying equal access to its WWEShop website.
Josue Romero, filed a lawsuit against WWE with the United States District Court Southern District Of New York On 10/6.
According to the filing, “Romero is a visually-impaired and legally blind person who requires screen-reading software to read website content using his computer”.
He is asking WWE to change its corporate policies and procedures to ensure its website will become accessible to blind and visually-impaired consumers.
He is also looking to be awarded costs and expenses for attorney fees, and demands a trial by jury.
1. Nature Of Action
Blind and visually-impaired users of Windows operating system-enabled computers and devices have several screen reading software programs available to them. Some of these programs are available for purchase and other programs are available without the user having to purchase the program separately. Job Access With Speech, otherwise known as “JAWS” is currently the most popular, separately purchased and downloaded screen-reading software program available for a Windows computer
The international website standards organization, the World Wide Web Consortium, known throughout the world as W3C, has published version 2.0 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG 2.1”). WCAG 2.1 are well established guidelines for making websites accessible to blind and visually impaired people. These guidelines are universally followed by most large business entities and government agencies to ensure their websites are accessible.
2. Defendants Barriers On Its Website
It is, upon information and belief, Defendant’s policy and practice to deny Plaintiff, along with other blind or visually-impaired users, access to Defendant’s website, and to therefore specifically deny the goods and services that are offered to the general public. Due to Defendant’s failure and refusal to remove access barriers to its website, Plaintiff and visually-impaired persons have been and are still being denied equal access to Defendant’s Website, and the numerous goods and services and benefits offered to the public through the Website
Plaintiff is a visually-impaired and legally blind person, who cannot use a computer without the assistance of screen-reading software. Plaintiff is, however, a proficient JAWS screen-reader user and uses it to access the Internet. Plaintiff has visited the Website on separate occasions using the JAWS screen-reader.
During Plaintiff’s visits to the Website, the last occurring in September 2020, Plaintiff encountered multiple access barriers that denied Plaintiff full and equal access to the facilities, goods and services offered to the public and made available to the public; and that denied Plaintiff the full enjoyment of the facilities, goods and services of the Website.
While attempting to navigate the Website, Plaintiff encountered multiple accessibility barriers for blind or visually-impaired people that include, but are not limited to, the following:
Lack of Alternative Text (“alt-text”), or a text equivalent. Alt-text is an invisible code embedded beneath a graphical image on a website. Web accessibility requires that alt-text be coded with each picture so that screen-reading software can speak the alt-text where a sighted user sees pictures, which includes captcha prompts. Alttext does not change the visual presentation, but instead a text box shows when the cursor moves over the picture. The lack of alt-text on these graphics prevents screen readers from accurately vocalizing a description of the graphics.
Empty Links That Contain No Text causing the function or purpose of the link to not be presented to the user. This can introduce confusion for keyboard and screenreader users;
Redundant Links where adjacent links go to the same URL address which results in additional navigation and repetition for keyboard and screen-reader users; and Linked Images Missing Alt-text, which causes problems if an image within a link contains no text and that image does not provide alt-text. A screen reader then has no content to present the user as to the function of the link, including information contained in PDFs.
As a result of visiting Defendant’s Website and from investigations performed on his behalf, Plaintiff is aware that the Website includes at least the following additional barriers blocking his full and equal use:
a. Site function like country drop down selector is not fully properly labeled to integrate with the screen reader. The link is described as “link U.S.” This flaw bars the user form choosing the shipping destination and the currency to use in purchasing.
b. A pop-up, stating “…Save $5 on your next order…” by submitting your email address to the website. This pop-up becomes more prevalent and presents itself center-stage for the website as it opens in full screen, however, all the information contained in the pop-up is lost due to the inaccessibility of the information.
c. Site function like some product category links located in the header are inaccessible by navigating with the keyboard. When selecting a category, the link is labeled as “item as no primary action”. This flaw creates issues for the interpretation performed by the screen reader and therefore bars the user from understanding the information the website is to report back to the user.
d. Products have text that describe the item, details of the item and price. Product pricing is not labeled to integrate with screen reader and therefore, overlooks important information that a customer would require to complete a purchase.
3. Defendant Must Remove Barriers To Its Website
Due to the inaccessibility of Defendant’s Website, blind and visually-impaired customers such as Plaintiff, who need screen-readers, cannot fully and equally use or enjoy the facilities, products, and services Defendant offers to the public on its Website. The access barriers Plaintiff encountered have caused a denial of Plaintiff’s full and equal access in the past, and now deter Plaintiff on a regular basis from visiting the Website, presently and in the future.
These access barriers on Defendant’s Website have deterred Plaintiff from learning about those various WWE merchandise for purchase and delivery, and enjoying them equal to sighted individuals because: Plaintiff was unable to determine and or purchase items from its Website, among other things
If the Website was equally accessible to all, Plaintiff could independently navigate the Website and complete a desired transaction as sighted individuals do.
Through his attempts to use the Website, Plaintiff has actual knowledge of the access barriers that make these services inaccessible and independently unusable by blind and visually-impaired people
Because simple compliance with the WCAG 2.1 Guidelines would provide Plaintiff and other visually-impaired consumers with equal access to the Website, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant has engaged in acts of intentional discrimination, including but not limited to the following policies or practices:
a. Constructing and maintaining a website that is inaccessible to visually-impaired individuals, including Plaintiff;
b. Failure to construct and maintain a website that is sufficiently intuitive so as to be equally accessible to visually-impaired individuals, including Plaintiff; and,
c. Failing to take actions to correct these access barriers in the face of substantial harm and discrimination to blind and visually-impaired consumers, such as Plaintiff, as a member of a protected class
Plaintiff seeks that this permanent injunction requires Defendant to cooperate with the Agreed Upon Consultant to:
a. Train Defendant’s employees and agents who develop the Website on accessibility compliance under the WCAG 2.1 guidelines;
b. Regularly check the accessibility of the Website under the WCAG 2.0 guidelines;
c. Regularly test user accessibility by blind or vision-impaired persons to ensure that Defendant’s Website complies under the WCAG 2.1 guidelines; and,
d. Develop an accessibility policy that is clearly disclosed on Defendant’s Websites, with contact information for users to report accessibility-related problems.
4. CLASS ACTION ALLEGATIONS
Plaintiff, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, seeks to certify a nationwide class under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a) and 23(b)(2): all legally blind individuals in the United States who have attempted to access Defendant’s Website and as a result have been denied access to the equal enjoyment of goods and services, during the relevant statutory period.
5. VIOLATIONS OF THE ADA
Plaintiff, on behalf of himself and the Class Members, repeats and realleges every allegation of the preceding paragraphs as if fully set forth herein.
Section 302(a) of Title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., provides: No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.
6. VIOLATIONS OF THE NYSHRL
N.Y. Exec. Law § 296(2)(a) provides that it is “an unlawful discriminatory practice for any person, being the owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent or employee of any place of public accommodation . . . because of the . . . disability of any person, directly or indirectly, to refuse, withhold from or deny to such person any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof.”
7. VIOLATION OF THE NEW YORK STATE CIVIL RIGHTS LAW
N.Y. Civil Rights Law § 40 provides that “all persons within the jurisdiction of this state shall be entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any places of public accommodations, resort or amusement, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to all persons. No persons, being the owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, agent, or employee of any such place shall directly or indirectly refuse, withhold from, or deny to any person any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges thereof . . .”
8. PRAYER FOR RELIEF
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff respectfully requests this Court grant the following relief:
a. A preliminary and permanent injunction to prohibit Defendant from violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12182, et seq., N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, et seq., N.Y.C. Administrative Code § 8-107, et seq., and the laws of New York;
b. A preliminary and permanent injunction requiring Defendant to take all the steps necessary to make its Website into full compliance with the requirements set forth in the ADA, and its implementing regulations, so that the Website is readily accessible to and usable by blind individuals;
c. A declaration that Defendant owns, maintains and/or operates its Website in a manner that discriminates against the blind and which fails to provide access for persons with disabilities as required by Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12182, et seq., N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, et seq., N.Y.C. Administrative Code § 8-107, et seq., and the laws of New York
d. An order certifying the Class and Sub-Classes under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(a) & (b)(2) and/or (b)(3), appointing Plaintiff as Class Representative, and his attorneys as Class Counsel;
e. Compensatory damages in an amount to be determined by proof, including all applicable statutory and punitive damages and fines, to Plaintiff and the proposed class and subclasses for violations of their civil rights under New York State Human Rights Law and City Law;
f. Pre- and post-judgment interest;
g. An award of costs and expenses of this action together with reasonable attorneys’ and expert fees; and
h. Such other and further relief as this Court deems just and proper.