Minnesota Class Action Lawsuit Accuses Company Website of Inaccessibility

Image Description: Illustration of Thomas and Ken at a desk with A11y Insights. Thomas has a laptop in front of him. A city skyline is in the distance behind them. The news window shows the state of Minnesota and new clothes with a buy button

In Minnesota, a Plaintiff who is legally blind alleges Christopher and Banks’ website is not accessible to screen readers. The case states this denial of full and equal access to “important website content” violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Moreover, the Plaintiff says it also violates the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA). It’s a state law that prohibits discrimination in Minnesota on the basis of disability, gender identity, religion, race, age, sexual orientation, and so on. In short, it protects all Minnesotans.

This law applies to employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and so on.  According to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, it’s one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country. In this episode of A11y Insights, Ken Nakata from Converge Accessibility and Equal Entry CEO and founder Thomas Logan discuss the Minnesota case and the Human Rights Act.

Thomas Logan: Hello everyone, this is Thomas Logan from Equal Entry and I’m here today with Ken Nakata from Converge Accessibility and we’re here to talk about a new lawsuit from Minnesota. A plaintiff who is legally blind is alleging that Christopher and Banks website is not accessible to screen readers.

This is a website for fashion retail, and this case is working on the idea of the site not being available under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

So, I’d like to kick it off with a question for Ken.

Ken, we’ve been doing a lot of cases in the United States. But what kind of ADA litigation has occurred in Minnesota and where is Minnesota in the circuits?

What Happened with ADA Litigation in Minnesota?

Ken Nakata: Great question, Thomas. Minnesota is obviously in the middle of the country, and it’s part of what’s called the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. That includes states all the way down to Arkansas and includes Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and both of the Dakotas, North Dakota and South Dakota. Before this podcast, I took some time to look in Lexis to see what I could find about web accessibility cases that were brought in the 8th Circuit or in Minnesota and came up with absolutely nothing.

More broadly, I imagine that if I dug around a little bit further, I could find some ADA cases generally, but what I’m really after is, I’m trying to get a sense of whether it follows the same nexus approach that we see in California and Florida, or whether they follow the more liberal and general approach of the First Circuit, or whether they follow the Texas approach, which is basically saying that the ADA simply doesn’t apply to websites.

Somewhere in that mix we would find in Minnesota. My suspicion is that they would probably tend towards the nexus requirement because that seems to be the way in which most courts just tend to go.

Thomas Logan: This will be a great case to watch to see what happens in the Eighth Circuit and might set a precedent for other cases in the circuit, right?

Ken Nakata: Yes, exactly. It would be very interesting to see how the court goes with this. It may not be a binding precedent on all of those other states, but it would certainly be influential.

The Implications of the Minnesota Human Rights Act on the Case

Thomas Logan: And specifically mentioned in this case was the Minnesota Human Rights Act. What is that and why is that applicable to this case, potentially?

Ken Nakata: So, the Minnesota Human Rights Act is a very broad civil rights act that includes racial discrimination as well as gender discrimination, discrimination on the basis of age or gender identity, and in that long laundry list of other, categories of forms of discrimination is disabilities. The framework of the law, in terms of the discriminatory practices, seems to be focused more along the lines of like the ADA.

And so if you look at the public accommodation section or the public services sections, it really is mirrored on the ADA type of framework. This isn’t uncommon in a lot of states. I believe Colorado does the same thing. For instance, I was just looking at their laws recently and in general, it’s a pretty good framework. But, one of the other interesting things about Minnesota is that the courts in Minnesota can also impose civil penalties. And I think that’s one of the things that the plaintiffs are seeking in this case.

Thomas Logan: That’s interesting to know that Minnesota has that, and I’ll be interested to see if there’s any additional damages or any additional ruling based off that specific Human Rights Act in that state, to see if that has its own push on accessibility and making the world more accessible.

Ken Nakata: Okay. That will be pretty interesting. Thomas, I also noticed in looking over the complaint that there aren’t that many allegations about what the defendant specifically did wrong. What do you think about those allegations?

Thomas Logan: I think they’re very broad and not specific enough to be actionable for the defendant to remedy or resolve. On the other hand, I can understand the thought process that if a site’s not accessible, “Why do I have to do all the work to list out and enumerate all the different issues of your site? I’m not doing a full accessibility audit. As the plaintiff, I’m just pointing out that I’m not able to be successful here.” In my opinion, I prefer something that is more specific because it’s actionable and clear to know where the issues are occurring.

As a quick example, under 26A in the complaint, it says the website uses visual cues as the only means of conveying information, making the information unavailable to screen reader users. Visual cues as the only means of conveying information is quite broad, and if I was the owner of that website, I wouldn’t really know what I needed to do to address that.

Whereas if you said, “I tried to purchase a specific product on the site, such as I was looking to purchase a blue sweater for my grandmother, and I needed to get it in the medium size, and none of that information was available to me.” That’s much more specific. So those types of things I prefer to see, but I also can understand that to do a full test and full audits takes a large amount of time.

Ken Nakata: At the same time, I believe that the complaint also asked the court in its prayer for relief that they should make the entire site accessible and make the entire site comply with WCAG, based upon the fact that on those fairly bare bones allegations. What do you think about that?

Thomas Logan: That also I think is I wish that could be true, but as we see on so many realistic websites today in 2024, that’s not the case.

It’s almost never true that we have full WCAG compliance on any page. And so I would be thinking, at least in the scope of making progress here, the idea of having all pages accessible. It’s great to put that in there. I can even see that getting signed in as it’s something that they’re committing to. But I bet 18 months later when we check this, every single webpage, it’s not going to be accessible to WCAG standards.

And that might not even be important because there could be many webpages that have nothing to do with what this plaintiff was trying to do on the website. So I think this is just what we constantly discuss on this podcast is that it’s very difficult to apply something like WCAG to a technical website that can be 5,000, 10,000 keep going up in number of webpages.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not going to be useful or available to people with disabilities if the core tasks they’re trying to do on the site are on maybe 10 pages or 20 pages of the website.

So, I don’t really agree with that idea of just every single page is going to be compliant and you must do this. I don’t think we would see that if we come back 18 months later. It’s not going to be like that, in my opinion.

Ken Nakata: I agree completely, obviously, because, as you mentioned, we’ve discussed this a number of times, and it’s one of those things that I think that lawyers often ask for in wishful thinking. But they don’t take into consideration the reality of actual web development.

Thomas Logan: Absolutely. And it’s possible in the future, and I still Hold space for there can be content management systems and products that are developed that can do a much better job and making sure that every page is accessible. So the capability is possible, but I wouldn’t say that any platform right now really enables that in a way that’s very achievable, especially for a smaller business, such as Christopher and Banks.

Ken Nakata: I think Christopher and Banks may be a fairly sizable company, but, whether it’s big or small, it doesn’t really matter. I think that it’s still going to be very difficult for a company that doesn’t spend a huge amount of time focusing on web accessibility to suddenly wave a magic wand and all of a sudden all your web pages are suddenly going to become accessible

Demo of Problems with Christopher and Banks Website

Thomas Logan: Right, now let me just show you a quick demo of a few problems I found on the site, and this would be my example of if I had been participating in the complaint from the technical side, I would have made some specificity on some of the barriers that are found.

So let me show you a couple things. Alright, I’m here on the Christopher and Banks website, and currently I’m on a “Outfits and Collections” subpage on the website.

I can start up a screen reader, such as VoiceOver.

And I can start tapping through the page. As I start tapping through the page, I start at the top, I hear “link, CREDIT CARD,” “link, ORDER STATUS,” “link, HELP.” So the first three links that are at the top of the page are in a logical order, and they’re being read out. So that’s good from accessibility. But now I’m going to just skip down through the page and get down to one of the products.

Here we can see “link, image, image of product 771-630,” “link, QUICKVIEW,” “link, HOODED V-NECK SWEATER,” “link, image, image of product 771-729.” As we can see here, I don’t need to keep going through these, but hearing “image of product 771-729,” not helpful. Now, I think you could get into the design of this and really debate whether you need to have a full description of the product on this page, because this page is more of the overview page.

Let’s go into a specific product page for Lace Trim V-Neck Tee. On the specific product page, there is a description of the product further down on the website.

Here on the product information section it says, “Elevate your style with our effortlessly chic V-neck long sleeve top. Crafted from luxurious slub jersey fabric. It offers a relaxed yet polished look, etc, etc.” So there is a more detailed description once you navigate down into the webpage. But this is something again for thinking about a screen reader user.

Needs to be designed well and thought through. But from my standpoint of looking at this, I feel like there is a lot of descriptive information here and the problem is more just the images that might have been encountered on that previous page. So it’s not that the descriptions don’t exist, but this company needs to think about how to reuse or specifically address the needs of a screen reader user to make it easier to navigate the site because no one wants to hear a bunch of numbers read out when they’re searching a site.

So, I would say, just from that quick look there, I agree that it’s very difficult on the category page to be hearing a bunch of numbers. And one other quick demo of an issue, very quick to find, and something I would have put specifically into the complaint.

On the webpage, there is a price for how much the product used to cost and how much the product currently costs. And visually, there’s a red mark through the previous price that visually we can tell that the price was slashed and it’s been reduced. But with the screen reader, when I navigate to this price, it’s actually announced as $44.95 to $49.95. So for someone that can’t visually see the red slash, you might believe the product cost that price.

And it’s confusing as you continue reading the page to then hear a different price as you navigate through the page. So that would be another one I would specifically call out. That’s very confusing and I would have that as a major issue of this site. That I need to know how much this thing costs when I’m buying it and I need to know that the first price I heard was the previous price.

So, those are two quick examples of things that I do agree with the plaintiff. These are things that make the site very difficult to use, if not a major barrier to being able to be successful in purchasing a product from the website.

Ken Nakata: We’d love to hear from you. Let’s continue the conversation. Please add your comments, and we will be happy to respond. Thanks so much for your time, and we look forward to seeing you in our next episode.


Do you need help with accessibility compliance?

Our years of experience working with lawyers and being expert witnesses in lawsuits have given us a unique perspective when it comes to explaining and justifying our clients’ accessibility compliance.

If you are experiencing any legal issues related to the accessibility of your technology, please contact us to discuss how we can help.

Thomas Logan
Owner | NYC, USA
Founder | Accessibility Consultant | Global Speaker | ADA WCAG Section 508 | A11y | Accessibility VR & A11yNYC Organizer