February 02, 2018

NAFCU presses FTC to review meritless ADA lawsuits

NAFCU detailed its concerns about the "recent tide of frivolous lawsuits" and demand letters unfairly targeting credit unions due to unclear website accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in a letter Thursday to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The letter asked that the FTC look into the issue and urge the Justice Department to issue clear ADA website standards.

"NAFCU and its member credit unions recognize the significance of the ADA and fully support the ability for all Americans to be free from discrimination and to have access to a broad array of financial services," wrote NAFCU Vice President of Regulatory Compliance Brandy Bruyere in a letter to FTC Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen and Commissioner Terrell McSweeny.

"However, the important goals of the ADA are best achieved through clear guidance and standards for compliance, not through meritless and costly lawsuits that serve only to financially benefit plaintiffs' attorneys at the expense of well-meaning and community-focused credit unions," Bruyere added.

Bruyere explained that current ADA and Justice Department regulations are silent on website accessibility standards. The Justice Department has never promulgated regulations regarding website accessibility for public accommodations and recently withdrew previously issued advanced notices of proposed rulemakings on this subject.

"With no clear rules of the road, the door is open for opportunistic law firms to capitalize on the lack of clarity in the law to their own financial advantage," she wrote.

Describing the demand letters targeting credit unions, Bruyere wrote that some "misleading characteristics" in the letters could potentially constitute unfair or deceptive acts or practices (UDAPs) in violation of the FTC Act.

Bruyere added that the demand letters typically claim to represent an unnamed visually impaired person who is not a member of the credit union or even clearly eligible for membership in the credit union. She cited a recent federal district court decision in Virginia that came to such a conclusion.

Credit unions, banks and other entities have faced a rash of lawsuits in the past year related to website accessibility. NAFCU resources for dealing with the ADA issue can be found here.