Freedom Watch vs. Google
Early in 2020, Freedom Watch v. Google came before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and raised the question of whether or not the public accommodations provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act applied to online businesses. If they did, those platforms would be prohibited from discriminating in their services and the Act would provide a cause of action against online harassers. D.C.’s law is one of the strongest public accommodations laws in the nation and one of the few that also applies not just to intentional discrimination, but also to unintentional discrimination by disparate impact.
The Digital Justice Initiative filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the D.C. statute applies to online businesses. In addition, our brief explained the errors in the trial court’s decision and the importance of public accommodations laws for guaranteeing civil rights, offline and online.
Ultimately, the D.C. Court of Appeals found that the public accommodations protections in the D.C. Human Rights Act only applies to businesses that operate from a physical location. However, the D.C. Council later overturned this decision in a new law that extended the Human Rights Act to apply equally to online and offline businesses.
Plaintiffs in the case appealed their loss in the D.C. Circuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.