NAFCU urges Justice Department to address ADA website issue

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Representatives from the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions and some credit unions met with the Department of Justice to discuss the ongoing legal battle over the Americans with Disabilities Act and its applicability to websites.

In the past 18 months, numerous credit unions have been hit with lawsuits alleging their websites violated the ADA. Credit unions have struggled with what accommodations they should provide on their websites and mobile apps.

NAFCU and the Credit Union National Association have been lobbying both lawmakers and regulators to come up with guidelines that will supply clarity on the issue.

Carrie Hunt, NAFCU’s executive vice president of government affairs and general counsel, said during the meeting on Monday that the DOJ seemed “open” to what credit unions had to say.

“I am encouraged, but I think part of the issue is figuring out what is the ‘right’ solution,” Hunt said. “We don’t want a regime that is expensive for credit unions to implement. We want a solution credit unions can follow without a negative impact. Because there are a lot of nuances, there is a lot to work out.”

One issue that was discussed at Monday’s meeting was a bill recently passed by the Virginia state legislature giving an entity 120 days to cure a problem if there is an ADA complaint. Hunt pointed out there is a national standard that gives a similar period of time to address physical access standards.

Of the lawsuits filed against credit unions, a number have been dismissed because courts ruled the alleged plaintiffs lacked standing, meaning they were ineligible to join the credit union.

Two January court rulings raised a contradiction on the matter. First a ruling by the Ninth Circuit federal appellate court said the ADA could apply to the website and mobile app of a business that is a public accommodation where there is a “nexus” between the website or the app and the physical locations of the business in question.

Just 10 days later, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed a lawsuit filed against the $693 million-asset Smart Financial Credit Union in Houston. The court said the plaintiff did have standing as he “seemed to fall” in institution’s field of membership. However, the court ruled a website is “not a physical place,” meaning the credit union would not be liable under the ADA.

NAFCU said Hunt was joined at the meeting by Ann Kossachev, its director of regulatory affairs, and Kaley Schafer, its regulatory affairs counsel. The trade group said William Barr, newly appointed attorney general of the U.S., “has indicated his awareness of website accessibility concerns related to the ADA.”

NAFCU said it has filed 16 amicus briefs in seven states to support credit unions targeted by ADA website accessibility litigation. Of those 16, nine complaints have been dismissed.

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ADA Websites Litigation Field of membership Carrie Hunt DoJ NAFCU CUNA Washington DC