Washington, D.C.-based Department of Labor Federal Credit Union has prevailed in a lawsuit brought against it over the accessibility of its website, according to documents filed in a Virginia District Court.
The complaint alleged that the plaintiff couldn’t use the credit union’s website to locate facilities and ATM locations or to learn about the credit union’s services, because the website didn’t include certain accommodations for blind users. In a new seven-page order, however, District Judge T. S. Ellis III ruled that the plaintiff did not suffer harm sufficient to give him standing in the case.
“Without membership or even the ability to become a member, there is no harm to plaintiff resulting from his inability to access information about DOL FCU’s services,” Ellis explained.
“The complaint here does not allege that that plaintiff has any plan to become a member of DOL FCU, nor that plaintiff has any intention of even investigating whether he could become a member of DOL FCU,” the order also said. “Moreover, as explained above, plaintiff could not plausibly allege intent to become a member of DOL FCU because plaintiff is barred from membership.”
DOL FCU is open only to employees, retirees, immediate family members, or spouses of a deceased member of one of the Department of Labor’s eligible organizations, according to the filing.
The judge also noted that the type of harm alleged was a factor in the case.
“Although plaintiff is undoubtedly correct that intangible harms can confer standing, intangible harm does not do so here. First, plaintiff did not allege an injury to dignity in the complaint, he only alleged that he was deterred from accessing DOL FCU’s services,” the order said.
The judge also noted that the plaintiff hadn’t cited any ADA cases in which dignitary harm alone was sufficient to give standing to a plaintiff.
“If a dignitary harm based on an encounter with an allegedly discriminatory barrier to access of a public accommodation were sufficient to confer standing on a plaintiff, then any disabled person who learned of any barrier to access would automatically have standing to challenge the barrier, thereby essentially eliminating the injury-in-fact requirement,” it added.
DOL FCU’s board was pleased with the decision, CEO Joan Moran told CU Times. “We are grateful for the assistance of Kaufman & Canoles PC and the support of the MDDCUA and NAFCU,” Moran added. Department of Labor FCU has $89 million in assets and about 7,000 members.
The decision comes just a month after another judge dismissed a similar ADA case against Herndon, Virginia-based Northwest Federal Credit Union, which has $3.4 billion in assets and about 254,000 members. The plaintiff in that case has since filed an amended complaint against the credit union.
On Friday, NAFCU applauded the DOL FCU decision.
“NAFCU is pleased to see another lawsuit dismissed as the court agreed the plaintiff had no reason to sue our member,” President and CEO Dan Berger said. “We have actively defended our members in this fight for months, and will continue to do so as long as these meritless lawsuits continue.”
The Maryland & District of Columbia Credit Union Association also welcomed the order.
“This is a very positive step forward in trying to stem the flood of frivolous lawsuits,” President and CEO John Bratsakis said. “It is encouraging that the court recognized the merit of the case presented by Dept. of Labor FCU and Kaufman & Canoles. We will continue to support and defend our credit unions.”