Blind Customers and the Committee File Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit Challenging Sweetgreen’s Failure to Make its Online Ordering Accessible to the Blind

Class Action Suit Alleges Sweetgreen Violated the Americans with Disabilities Act

NEW YORK, NY Today, blind customers of Sweetgreen and a civil rights group filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Sweetgreen violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to make its online ordering platform accessible to blind customers. Sweetgreen is a fast-growing salad chain that has 40 stores in the District of Columbia, New York, and five other states, and claims it aligns its business practices with its founders’ socially-conscious values.

The blind customers, who are represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs (WLC), repeatedly complained over the past year to Sweetgreen about the lack of accessibility of its online web ordering system and its mobile app. But, the suit alleges, Sweetgreen refused to make its online ordering system accessible, even though the ADA and state laws require Sweetgreen to maintain a web site that is accessible to blind customers.

The WLC, a 48-year old civil rights group, has made online accessibility a top priority and has litigated many cases on behalf of blind customers and workers. In November 2015, the WLC reached a settlement with the General Services Administration in a case that complained the federal agency maintained a web site that was not accessible to blind federal contractors in violation of federal law.

The Sweetgreen lawsuit, Farmer v. Sweetgreen, Inc. (S.D.N.Y.), was filed this morning in the federal district court in Manhattan by two blind customers—Tajuan Farmer and Mika Pyyhkala—who use talking screen readers and are seeking to represent a class of blind customers who were denied the opportunity to order food through Sweetgreen’s online ordering platform. The Complaint alleges that Sweetgreen has violated – and continues to violate – Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Human Rights Laws of the State and City of New York, by failing to ensure that its web-based ordering system and its mobile application are accessible to blind customers.

“As a public restaurant, Sweetgreen has a legal obligation to make all of its services accessible to blind customers, including its online ordering system and mobile app,” said Matthew Handley, the WLC’s Director of Litigation. “All too often, blind Americans are denied equal treatment and access to everyday services in violation of federal and state law. When a business like Sweetgreen ignores the complaints of customers who have disabilities, it leaves the customers with no choice but to ask the federal courts to enforce the law. Our clients are paying customers and cannot be denied equal access to everyday services—by Sweetgreen or by any other place of public accommodation.”

Blind individuals routinely access the Internet on mobile devices and computers using screen reader software that either vocalizes information in synthetic speech or displays information on Braille display hardware devices. If a web site or a mobile application is designed using accessibility standards, blind customers can readily access the same information, services, and benefits as their sighted counterparts. Apple, for example, provides extensive documentation and resources to developers to ensure mobile app accessibility. But if a web site or mobile application is not coded correctly, the screen reading software that blind individuals use cannot detect the information displayed, and blind customers are locked out of the benefits and advantages of the service.

 

Sweetgreen’s online ordering service allows customers to customize and order their food ahead of time and then pick up the food at the restaurant without waiting in line or ordering in person. But, according to the Complaint, blind individuals cannot complete their orders with this beneficial feature and are forced to rely on a Sweetgreen staff member to read them the menu options while they wait in line in a crowded and noisy environment. Blind customers must also wait longer, since they cannot pre-order items for pickup.

Over the past year, the Plaintiffs, Tajuan Farmer and Mika Pyyhkala, have lodged informal complaints and requests with Sweetgreen in the hope that Sweetgreen would agree to voluntarily comply with the law and make its online ordering system accessible to blind customers. Unfortunately, Sweetgreen has refused to commit to make its online ordering system accessible to blind customers, despite the fact that it is not burdensome or costly for Sweetgreen to do so.

“The Internet is fundamentally a place of public accommodation, just as much as any other brick and mortar business,” said Plaintiff Mika Pyyhkala, who works nationally with several blindness organizations on accessibility and digital civil rights. “Blind Americans are entitled to full access to the innovative array of services that are provided to the public via mobile applications and Internet. Accessibility of mobile apps and web sites is a fundamental digital civil right in the 21st Century.”

The Plaintiffs and the proposed class are represented by the WLC’s Director of Litigation, Matthew Handley, the WLC’s Deputy Director of Litigation Peter Romer-Friedman, and WLC Staff Attorney Deepa Goraya.

A copy of the complaint is available here.

Media Highlights:

The Washington Post (March 23, 2016)


Media Contact:

Matthew Handley, matthew_handley@washlaw.org, (202) 319-1000
Director of Litigation, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights

ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: For more than 45 years, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has represented individuals and groups seeking to vindicate their civil rights. It has handled over 5,000 civil rights cases in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other aspects of urban life. It represents people with claims of discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, disability, age, religion, sexual orientation, and military service and status. For more information, visit www.washlaw.org; or write to: Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights

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