Over 50 complaints have been filed since the beginning of 2015 against well-known retailers for allegedly failing to make their websites accessible to the blind. One law firm is responsible for 18 such complaints. But power tools retailer Harbor Freight Tools USA Inc. is using every tool it has to fight back.
Harbor Freight filed suit against Carlson Lynch Sweet & Kilpela LLP after receiving a letter from the firm, which claimed that one or more disabled clients were unable to access the retailer’s website.
Carlson Lynch wrote that the lack of access constituted a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It told Harbor Freight it could avoid a lawsuit by entering into a settlement agreement, in which Harbor Freight would make changes to its site and pay the firm an attorney’s fee.
Harbor Freight responded by asking Carlson Lynch to disclose the disabled clients’ identities and specify which website transactions they were unable to complete. The complaint said Carlson Lynch refused.
The retailer also said it ran an audit to evaluate the law firm’s website accessibility and—ironically—found “errors.”
“I shouldn't have to remind you that law firms are specifically identified in the ADA as ‘public accommodations’ subject to the same rules you assert apply to retailers,” counsel for Harbor Freight said.
The fight has escalated; Carlson Lynch filed suit 15 days after Harbor Freight filed its complaint.
The Harbor Freight complaint “seems intended to have a chilling effect on the words and actions of accessibility rights advocates,” one of the defendants told Bloomberg BNA March 25. “This action seems to be a gimmick of last resort.”
The law firm’s website is also displaying a notice of its ADA compliance policy on its landing page.
Counsel for Harbor Freight didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time.
Back in February, restaurant chain Mazzio’s LLC filed a similar complaint against Carlson Lynch. But Mazzio’s withdrew its complaint two days after filing.
Harbor Freight filed its complaint March 1. As of now, it’s still active.
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