SEMINOLE — City councilors approved an $8,500 settlement agreement in the case of Open Access for All, Inc. and Andres Gomez v. the city of Seminole regarding the city website’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliancy.
At the Aug. 23 council meeting, City Attorney Jay Daigneault said the case, which is pending in district court in Tampa, alleges that the city website was not ADA compliant in February of this year.
Seminole is the latest Florida city to be hit by an ADA lawsuit, he added.
“These types of lawsuits have been flying and flurrying around Florida and the country for several years,” he said.
The City Council authorized staff to “move towards compliance” last year, Daigneault said. “Staff did an absolutely wonderful job in getting you there,” he added, but they missed their January deadline “by about two weeks.”
As part of the settlement, council also needed “to agree (the city will) achieve the greatest degree of compliance (it) can,” he said. This request is “redundant, because (council has) already decided to do that.”
Daigneault recommended the council move forward with the settlement, which would be covered under its policy with Municipal Insurance Trust and paid in full by the trust, with no deductible for the city.
“Although a settlement of this lawsuit may be viscerally offensive, it is … economically wise, because it is legally wise,” he said.
City Manager Ann Toney-Deal said the council approved funding for several ADA initiatives last year. Since then, the city’s information technology staff has made every document and piece of information on the city website ADA compliant, she said.
“We feel very comfortable that we probably are cutting edge in the compliance of our website,” she said. “Everything we do, we are very concerned about compliance. I feel very comfortable that our IT department has done everything we know that we should do, could do to make our website ADA compliant.”
During this time, like other municipalities facing ADA scrutiny, the city also ceased filming its Seminole City Council meetings because of the cost associated with ensuring the recordings were ADA compliant, she said.
Daigneault said there is currently no set standard for ADA compliance.
“That’s really the rub, isn’t it? We don’t know what level of compliance is ultimately going to satisfy a court,” he said.
He also said that though this particular case is settled, he can’t guarantee that the city won’t be sued for ADA compliancy again. If another case is brought to court within the statute of limitations, then it would be “valid,” he said.
“We can’t capture other people’s rights in the settle agreement as to one particular person,” Daigneault said.
He thinks another lawsuit is unlikely, however, and calls this particular case “opportunistic.”
“I don’t think you’ll be sued,” he said. “I can’t say never. Never say never.”
His “sense” is these types of ADA lawsuits will “start washing out.”