Domino’s, the leading US pizza chain that pinned its remarkable turnaround nearly a decade ago on an investment in technology, is currently waging a legal battle so that it does not have to make its website accessible to the blind. The case, which began three years ago as a lawsuit by blind US resident Guillermo Robles, may go all the way to the US Supreme Court, CNBC reports. The eventual result could become a landmark decision over the rights of people with disabilities and the responsibility of companies to retrofit mobile apps and websites for accessibility.
At the core of case is Domino’s insistence that it should not have to make its website, the predominant platform for ordering pizza from its physical stores, accessible to people with visual impairments. Specifically, Domino’s is contesting Robles’ claim that Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers mobile apps or websites, which effectively did not exist in modern form when the ADA was passed in 1990. Robles alleged the ADA does cover the web and software, so long as the business contains physical locations in the US and is soliciting customers over the internet. A federal court agreed.
Domino’s is worried rules around website accessibility will be too costly
Domino’s is now arguing against the judgement, and the company petitioned the Supreme Court to weigh in with a 35-page document designed to get the court to accept the case. In the document, Domino’s lays out its argument, claiming the cost of accessibility requirements may run into the millions, and the rules around what is accessible and what is not have yet to be decided. The company is concerned the ruling, as it stands now, could result in inconsistent enforcement that results in high costs to businesses.
“Businesses and non-profits have no interest in discriminating against potential customers or other individuals who happen to have disabilities. But these suits put their targets in an impossible situation. Unless this Court steps in now, defendants must retool their websites to comply with Title III without any guidance on what accessibility in the online environment means for individuals with the variety of disabilities covered by the ADA,” the document reads.
Domino’s is far from the only company facing down a lawsuit that requires its website accommodate people with disabilities. According to CNBC, the number of lawsuits over inaccessible websites jumped 58 percent last year over 2017, to more than 2,200. A vast majority of the suits have been filed by a group of 10 attorneys, CNBC reports, suggesting a activist coalition intent on building mounting pressure so that a higher court settles the matter once and for all. The Supreme Court is scheduled to reply to the petition when it resumes in the fall, while Robles’ lawyer has until August 14th to file a response.
Domino’s underwent a dramatic, tech-infused redesign of its entire ordering process and pizza design to help save it from dwindling sales and market share. As part of the makeover, the company redid everything from its storefronts and logo to its mobile app and website. Following an a surprisingly frank and self-deprecating marketing campaign, in which the company admitted its prior pizzas tasted like cardboard, Domino’s new approach was met with enthusiasm, and its sales began to skyrocket.
The Supreme Court could settle the matter, resulting in a landmark decision
A cornerstone of the turnaround has been the Domino’s Pizza Tracker, a tool for customers to monitor the progress of their online order. The feature has since become a fixture of the company’s online presence and brand that helped boost its profile among younger customers. Domino’s is now the leading pizza chain in the US, having narrowly beat out Pizza Hut last year for the very first time.
It might seem odd then that Domino’s is fighting a requirement to make a better website, but the company believes the current status of the lawsuit would make it — and every company that runs a website — too vulnerable to future suits.
In its petition to the Supreme Court, Domino’s references included features of its website, like the Pizza Tracker, that may be difficult to translate into words and that could result in higher costs during the retrofit. “For more complex websites with video content, interactive features, and links to other webpages, costs can reach even higher. Banks estimated that satisfying website-accessibility requirements could reach $3 million per website,” the document reads. “This wide variation reflects not only differences in the complexity of websites, but uncertainty over what compliance even means.”
According to CNBC, a number of restaurant- and retail-friendly groups, like the Chamber of Commerce and the Restaurant Law Center, have filed amicus briefs in support of Domino’s.