Mike Ervin writes in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of The Progressive magazine about the way that the Dominos pizza chain responded to a blind customer Guillermo Robles who filed a lawsuit in 2016 that the company’s mobile app did not have the features that would enable blind people to navigate it, thus violating Title III of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act that requires that disabled people be provided with access to places of “public accommodation”. This act has opened up vast areas of life that had hitherto been closed to people with disabilities.
You would think that the natural response to this suit, especially from a big company with deep pockets, would be to say “Oops! My bad” and quickly install such a feature on the app. It would seem to me to be a fairly easy fix that would not take much time or money to do, would expand its customer base, and generate good will as a caring company. But that shows how little I know about how capitalism works. Dominos decided to fight the case all the way, arguing that ‘public accommodation’ applied only to its bricks and mortar stores, a bizarre claim.
In 2017, US District Court judge S. James Otero ruled in favor of Robles, that the website is a place of public accommodation. But Dominos pulled out another argument. They said that the 1990 act did not lay out rules for websites (because of course this was before websites existed) and since the Justice Department had not provided such guidelines, they could not be expected to comply. Surprisingly, Judge Otero agreed with this and dismissed Robles’s suit without the case actually being argued.
But Robles appealed this summary dismissal and won his appeal in a unanimous ruling by the Ninth Circuit of the US Court of Appeals that said that the lack of action by the Justice Department meant undue delay and referred the case back to the lower court for a hearing and adjudication.
But Dominos was not done in avoiding doing the right thing. In June of this year, the company appealed that ruling to the US Supreme Court, saying that the ruling “explodes the reach of Title III to the online world”, as if that was a bad thing.
But on October 7, the Supreme Court denied the petition, meaning that the Appeals Court verdict will stand. This does not mean that Robles has won his case. It only means that his case will now be argued at the District Court level. There are more than 2,200 such suits seeking access for the disabled currently in federal courts.
For those not familiar with Dominos, apart from its lousy pizza, its founder Tom Monaghan is an extremely devout Catholic with highly conservative and, of course, anti-gay views. So sticking it to the disabled as well seems to be consistent with his view of Christianity. In 1998, he sold 93% of his stock to Bain Capital, which seems to be continuing to maintain his bigoted culture in the company.