1 December 2020
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Following our ADA Website Litigation Update in June, federal courts have begun to signal the end of a series of nearly 500 ADA lawsuits filed by one plaintiff against several hotels concerning accessibility descriptions on hotel reservation websites. Martin Orlick, Chair of JMBM’s ADA Compliance & Defense Group, gives an overview of these cases and explains why a recent ruling by a Maryland judge has proved that they are defensible.
While this ruling demonstrates that courts are beginning to push back against serial plaintiffs, it is important for hotels to understand what the ADA requires during the online reservations process.
Federal Judges Deal Further Blows to Debra Laufer’s Nationwide ADA Lawsuits Against the Hospitality Industry: ADA Lawsuits Are Defensible
Martin Orlick, Chair, JMBM’s ADA Compliance & Defense Group
On June 8, 2020, we reported on the opinions of a New York federal judge that 30 of Debra Laufer’s Complaints had no place in federal court. Since then, in other jurisdictions, federal judges have dealt further blows to Ms. Laufer’s campaign of lawsuits alleging that hotels and online travel agencies’ (OTA) websites violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under 28 C.F.R. § 36.302(e)(1) by failing to identify the accessibility features of their hotels. On November 10, 2020 in Deborah Laufer v. Ft. Meade Hospitality, Civ. 8:20-cv-1974, a Maryland judge dismissed Ms. Laufer’s Complaint for lack of Article III standing.
Debra Laufer has filed nearly 500 lawsuits against hotels in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Illinois, Texas and other states. Until recently, hotel defendants found it easier and cheaper to settle, thereby encouraging more lawsuits. But a recent federal court decision may signal the end of these serial ADA lawsuits filed by Ms. Laufer.
Ms. Laufer is a self-described “tester” who reviews hotel websites to determine whether these “places of public accommodation” and their websites are in compliance with the ADA. The plaintiff, physically disabled, resides in Florida and requires assistive devices, often including a wheelchair if available. When allegedly visiting hotels, she requires disability accommodations. Online reservations can be made directly through the hotel’s website or at booking.com, priceline.com, expedia.com and other booking websites. Laufer alleges she visited these websites to test whether they meet the requirements by providing disability information about the hotel accommodations. If the websites do not provide sufficient information, she files litigation through the same lawyers.
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