Judge Rules Ebay Not Covered By Americans With Disabilities Act

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Siding with eBay, a federal judge has dismissed allegations that the online auction violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by requiring sellers to use a telephone to verify their identities.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davila in San Jose, Calif., ruled that the federal law -- which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities -- doesn't apply to online companies like eBay. The 1990 statute says it applies to "places of public accommodation."

The ruling, issued earlier this month, dismissed the bulk of a potential class-action lawsuit filed in 2010 by Melissa Earll. She alleged that as a "profoundly deaf" person, she was unable to register with eBay because the company verifies identity through telephone calls. eBay allegedly gives prospective merchants passwords over the telephone; the registrants must then enter those passwords online.

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Earll said that she spent two months in the summer of 2008 corresponding with eBay in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the site to use an alternative verification system. In late 2009, she tried to register as a seller and again was unable to do so, she alleged.

Earll argued that eBay violated the federal ADA and two California laws.

Davila dismissed all of Earll's claims and ruled that she can't refile allegations relating to the ADA. "Because Earll will not be able to overcome the fact that the ADA does not apply to eBay.com by amending her complaint, leave to amend is not appropriate," Davila wrote.

The decision is at odds with a recent ruling against Netflix, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Michael Ponsor in Massachusetts. That decision allowed the National Association of the Deaf to proceed with its lawsuit alleging that Netflix violates the ADA by failing to provide closed captioning online.

Ponsor specifically rejected Netflix's argument that its online video service isn't considered a "place of public accommodation" under the ADA. Netflix recently asked Ponsor to send the case to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals for review.

But many other courts have said the ADA doesn't cover businesses that lack brick-and-mortar storefronts, says Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. He says the ruling against Netflix is an "outlier" that's "inconsistent with a long list of precedent in the area."

 

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