Whoah. Rihanna has been embroiled in a whole lot of lawsuits. Damn! This one involved a California woman BEATRIZ GUTIERREZ who took the songstress to court in California because the plaintiff claimed that the Fenty CEO discriminates against the blind and is non-compliant with federal standards as well as State of California standards regarding websites and the visually impaired.
The case is pending, though a lot of these cases seem to settle so this will likewise no doubt settle. But Rihanna’s company is definitely at risk because of the obvious deep pockets she has. It is one thing to sue a website where the owners have no assets and are therefore judgment-proof and another to sue a website like Fenty.com where money is just cruising up and down a bottomless pit. Building ADA compliant websites is not going to be simple for every website owner especially if they are small DIY concerns with a small budget, that don’t have a basic understanding of technological things like HTML, CSS, iOS and so forth. For sites like Fenty.com, however, they can’t exactly use lack of budget as an excuse.
Rihanna is not the only brand Gutierrez has sued as it turns out. According to thefashionlaw.com:
“Gutierrez – who has filed near-exact suits over the past six months against LVMH-owned brands Sephora and Brioni, Breitling, Net-a-Porter, Ferrari, Proenza Schouler, Isabel Marant, and Alexander Wang, among others – is seeking relief in the form of preliminary and permanent injunctions, which would bar Fenty Beauty from committing further violations of the UCRA, and an array of monetary damages.“
This is a lot of brands! But I digress. This post is about Rihanna. What is she going to do going forward to avoid opening up a floodgate of lawsuits? Because on the one hand, yes, she was remiss. On the second hand, yes. People like Beatriz Gutierrez need to speak up as she did. But on the third hand, there is another element of floodgates of litigation when you have deep pockets. And when you are a brand like Fenty, yes, you do have a higher standard of care than some obscure little website with 9 visitors per day. You have to have provisions that are inclusive. You have to do your best to think of everything in advance to safeguard your business. But you are also going to be a target – and sometimes unfairly.
I am sure by now Rihanna has a whole team in place who have taken care of this issue.
In reading a couple of websites this morning it seems that websites like Fenty.com and other brands with deep pockets should think of some of these following things when building a website for their e-commerce sites:
- Is the site accessible to everyone including the visually, auditory and physically impaired?
- Are software magnifiers being used in the settings to enlarge text for visually impaired people?
- Are users with physical impairments being given enough controls in terms of adjusting their own apparatuses to be able to use the site as the is programmed? Or has the site been programmed too much as a one size fits all?
- Is there a provision for text equivalents for images in the case of the visually impaired?
- Has the brand considered the fact that not everyone is “English proficient” and has therefore made provisions for this on their website?
- For the hearing impaired, is there a way they could convert text to spoken word if necessary?
- Is there a clear designation that the site is friendly to the vision or hearing or physically impaired?
- Have the website designers taken into account that some users cannot use a mouse?
- Is the website using the most “up to date technical standards” available?
- Are connections to the website secure so that there is no accidental disclosure of sensitive information?
- Are there tight security controls with respect to users’ data?
- Is there a clearly drafted “terms of service” on the site?
- Does the site use “clear language” that can be easily understood by most on average?
- Is there a search function on the website that makes it easy for users to navigate the site?
- Can users easily navigate the site? Can they easily share things on the site?
- With regard to forms, tables and surveys and things like that, are they easily accessible to people with disabilities?
- Is there a simple way for the site to receive feedback and measure its performance from the vantage point of users – including users with disabilities?
- Has the site used “plain writing” techniques?
- When, how, what and where is the brand advertising? Is it sensitive to all users?
- Does the brand’s website have a system in place to manage records and date efficiently including social media data?
It’s a lot to think about, and a huge financial outlay no doubt and certainly for websites that don’t have a budget to pay for all these things, it is definitely something that keeps them up at night. But if they are judgment proof anyway, they probably have less to worry about than big brands do. So this is an issue that really concerns brands with deep pockets. Because in Beatriz Gutierrez’s case, she is asking for both injunctive relief (for the court to force Rihanna’s Fenty to make changes to this website), as well as $15,000.00 in damages. And this is just because she couldn’t make a purchase on the site because of her visual impairment. It is not clear how she came up with that $15,000.00 number as the value of her harm (was she trying to make $15,000 worth of purchases?) But there you have it. This is what she is asking for.
In the grand scheme of things, it is not a lot if you are LVMH or FENTY. But if you have a floodgate of these, brands like Fenty, even if they have big pockets, will be in a lot of trouble and find themselves operating at a loss – with negative revenues- before you know it.