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ADA ‘tester’ can sue over website’s non-compliance

A “tester-plaintiff” had standing to sue over a hotel reservation website’s alleged failure to comply with federal regulations governing accessibility for the disabled, even if she had no plans to actually book a room at the hotel, a federal appellate court has ruled.

Plaintiff Deborah Laufer sued defendant Acheson Hotels for allegedly failing to comply with regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act that require hotels to make information about the property’s accessibility available on reservation portals.

The plaintiff is disabled with limited mobility and identifies herself as an ADA “tester” and advocate for the disabled. As a tester, the plaintiff has filed hundreds of similar ADA suits in federal courts across the country.

The hotel moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiff lacked standing to bring her suit because she never intended to book a room when she visited the hotel’s website.

U.S. District Court Judge George Z. Singal agreed and dismissed the case.

But in addressing an issue that has divided the federal circuits, a 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed, reading U.S. Supreme Court precedent as standing for the proposition that the denial of information that a plaintiff is statutorily entitled to have can make for a “concrete injury in fact.”

“The [ADA regulation at issue] recognizes that the public information on accessibility features is necessary to make sure disabled persons are ‘able to reserve hotel rooms with the same efficiency, immediacy, and convenience as those who do not need accessible guest rooms,’” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote for the panel. “Denying Laufer the same ‘efficiency, immediacy, and convenience’ as those not requiring accommodations is exactly the discrimination the regulations are trying to stamp out.”