In Taylor v. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, the Washington Supreme Court recently held that obesity is always an “impairment” under the Washington Law Against Discrimination (“WLAD”). The court held that the WLAD is more expansive than the Americans with Disabilities Act and expressly refused to follow some federal court decisions that found obesity to be a disability only if it is caused by a separate underlying physiological disorder.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, computers used floppy disks and the “World Wide Web” was still being tested by scientists at CERN. So while the law’s drafters had a good sense of what access would look like in the physical world, they had no idea what sort of economic and social changes were in store with the birth of the Internet.
Fast forward to 2016, and the law is still murky as to disability access issues online. But that uncertainty has not stopped the plaintiffs’ bar from filing lawsuits claiming that websites are inaccessible to users with disabilities and thus violate the ADA.
Many disabled individuals access the Internet using assistive technologies. For example, blind individuals or those with low vision can use screen readers that read website content aloud for them. Websites that are incompatible with assistive technology can create barriers for users with disabilities and give rise to costly and uncertain litigation.
In an issue of first impression, the California Court of Appeals held that employers have a duty under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to provide reasonable accommodations to an applicant or employee who is associated with a disabled person, even if the employee is not disabled. Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc. No. B261165, 2016 Cal. App. LEXIS 255 (Cal. Ct. App. April 4, 2016). This holding confirms that FEHA provides broader protections for employees associated with a disabled person than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which does not contain the same requirement.