New York Human Rights Laws
Web accessibility litigation continues to steadily rise, with an increase in lawsuits filed in both U.S. federal courts as well as state courts. The surge in state court filings is predominantly concentrated in two states: California and New York. New York has enacted both state-level and city-level anti-discrimination legislation that runs parallel to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL).
Both New York human rights laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of many characteristics, including disability, stating it is discriminatory for any place of public accommodation operating in New York to prevent access because of disability to accommodations, advantages, privileges, etc. of that place of public accommodation.
The phrase “place of public accommodation” is also found in Title III of the ADA and is an important one when it comes to web accessibility lawsuits. On the federal level, courts have consistently interpreted “place of public accommodation” to include websites. As a result, legal precedent is indisputable: if you operate a website that’s not accessible, you’re in violation of the ADA and New York human rights legislations.
The surge in costly NY-based web accessibility lawsuits
Thousands of companies have already been sued for inaccessible websites, with the vast majority of suits based in New York. And when it comes to fighting a legal battle, these state-level and city-level laws allow for additional fines including compensatory damages, civil penalties and fines, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and injunctive relief. In contrast, the ADA generally limits the plaintiff’s recovery to injunctive relief and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
It’s also important to note your business doesn’t have to be located in New York to be sued for violating New York State human rights laws. If someone from the state is accessing your website, you are subject to state jurisdiction.
Outside of legal risk and penalties, there’s also the intangible cost of a tarnished reputation. As consumers are increasingly loyal to businesses that prioritize equity and inclusion, a public discrimination lawsuit can quickly damage their trust in your company.
WCAG: the standard for web accessibility
To ensure your digital assets are accessible to all, start with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, or WCAG. WCAG is a set of technical standards that, when applied, make online content accessible for users of all abilities. WCAG standards suggest a site should be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust to be usable for all:
- Perceivable = It’s important to present information that can be perceived in different ways, where a user can adjust color contrast or font size, or view captions for videos.
- Operable = If someone can’t use a mouse, for example, they can use a keyboard or voice command.
- Understandable = Information and instructions are clear and navigation methods are easy to understand and use.
- Robust = Content must be robust enough so that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of users and types of assistive technologies.
WCAG conformance levels
There are three levels of WCAG conformance: A, AA, and AAA. Level A refers to the lowest level of conformance (minimum) and Level AAA is the highest (maximum).
How well is your site meeting WCAG standards?
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Frequently asked questions
What is the difference between the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law?
The New York State Human Rights Law is a state-level law, while the New York City Human Rights Law is at the city level. Both prohibit discrimination on the basis of many characteristics, including disability, stating it is discriminatory for any places of public accommodation operating in New York to prevent access because of disability to accommodations, advantages, privileges, etc. of that place of public accommodation. The reference to “places of public accommodation” runs in parallel with the language of the Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title III has consistently been interpreted to apply to websites and web content, which establishes legal precedent that both New York Human Rights Laws apply to websites and web content as well.
Who does the New York State Human Rights Law apply to?
The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) applies to all employers within the state of New York, even those with fewer than four employees. With regard to web content, it applies to all “places of public accommodation,” which has been interpreted to include an organization’s website and digital content.
Who does the New York City Human Rights Law apply to?
The New York City Human Rights Law applies to any employer in New York City that has employed four or more people within the past year. With regard to web content, similar to the New York State Human Rights Law, this city-level law applies to all “places of public accommodation,” which has been interpreted to include an organization’s website and digital content.