The Supreme Court is weighing whether hotels can be sued for failure to disclose accessibility information online if someone isn’t actually booking a room.
The high court pondered the case on Wednesday. The potentially new legal precedent could have drastic implications for large and small businesses alike.
The case involves activist Deborah Laufer, who is a disability rights campaigner.
The case “could curtail the ability of ‘testers’ to bring lawsuits to benefit the disabled community as a whole by ensuring hotels comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA,” according to NBC News.
(Audio Credit: Forbes Breaking News)
A number of justices looked less than convinced during an oral argument that Laufer faced discrimination from merely searching online to see whether a hotel listed accessibility information or not.
“Lurking in the background is another legal question about whether the Supreme Court should even decide the case, in part because Laufer has withdrawn her lawsuit and the ownership of the hotel in question has changed. It was unclear whether the justices would take that approach, which would leave the broader legal issue unresolved,” NBC News noted.
“The court heard an appeal brought by Acheson Hotels, which operated the Coast Village Inn and Cottages in Maine when the lawsuit was filed. The hotel’s lawyers argued that Laufer does not have legal standing to bring the cases because she has no intention of staying at the hotels,” the media outlet added.
Laufer is disabled and uses a wheelchair. In her 2020 lawsuit, she claimed that the hotel’s website failed to identify accessible rooms and did not provide other relevant information for someone with a disability.
So this woman makes a living calling up hotels to get them disclose their accessibility information even when she’s not planning to stay there? When she finally finds one that doesn’t, she sues them. Bet I know who she voted for.
— Charlie Murphy (@charliem1975) October 4, 2023
In order to gain standing in the case, she would have to show she suffered an injury, which she clearly did not according to the hotel’s attorneys.
“During the argument, justices debated what plaintiffs like Laufer would need to allege to show that they have suffered injuries, including whether they would need to try to book rooms or have concrete plans to visit the areas where the hotels are located,” NBC news stated.
Justice Neil Gorsuch opined that “spending the afternoon clicking through these things” online was not sufficient to establish standing.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh concurred with Gorsuch. He pondered whether individuals “actually experience discrimination” when they visit websites to discern whether they would be discriminated against if they physically went to the hotels in question.
I read the article she combed through hundreds of hotels to find ones she could target with the suit if anything she’s scamming the hotels and using the disabled to do it
— Keith james (@Keithja18646785) October 4, 2023
“Similarly, liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson brought up the Civil Rights Movement and questioned whether a Black person who witnessed a restaurant’s refusing to serve Black people would be able to sue without personally trying to sit down and order food,” NBC News wrote.
Jackson contended that Laufer more closely resembled someone witnessing discrimination, than someone experiencing it.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, on the other hand, appeared to be swayed by Laufer’s illogic on the issue.
“I thought discrimination means I am being treated differently than other people,” she commented. “If I go on a drive to a place and there’s a sign up that says ‘no disabled person is welcome,’ I’ve been discriminated against, correct?”
This is the problem, nobody was harmed, injured, or affected. Why is she suing anyone?
— Noah James (@MIphotoWIZARD) October 4, 2023
Laufer’s suit was booted by a federal district court because it lacked standing. However, the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resurrected her case last year.
“Acheson’s lawyers noted in court filings that Laufer has filed more than 600 lawsuits targeting small hotels and bed-and-breakfasts. Litigation costs can be substantial for small businesses facing such claims, they said,” NBC News reported.
“Laufer’s lawyers countered in their own court papers that the language of the ADA allows for anyone who is disabled and therefore subject to discrimination on that basis to sue if an entity has violated the law,” the media outlet stated.
According to Laufer’s legal team, such lawsuits are necessary because if they did not exist, there would be no incentive to comply with the ADA.
They need to stop these frivolous shakedowns of businesses by the ADA grifters…
— Ali Gori (@AliGori13) October 5, 2023
The Biden administration took the side of the hotel in a brief filed in the case. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote that by merely viewing hotel information, Laufer had not suffered an injury.
“But Prelogar defended the ability of testers to enforce civil rights laws more generally, citing a 1982 case in which the Supreme Court upheld the ability of testers to bring lawsuits challenging housing discrimination,” NBC News concluded.