By Christopher D. Ling | Jan 1, 2023

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I have worked on numerous cases related to building accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Private individuals seek ADA enforcement through the courts, since there are no federal ADA inspectors.

In recent years, a unique legal issue is emerging in the United States, exemplified by the actions of individuals like Deborah Laufer, a civil rights “tester” who has filed numerous lawsuits challenging ADA compliance in the lodging industry. These lawsuits involve facilities where she may not seek lodging. Rather, she checks if various buildings (or the online listings about them) comply with the ADA and files suit based on her assessment. This essay delves into the complexities of these cases and their implications for architects and businesses because the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is considered the issue in the 2024 term.

The ADA and Its Evolution

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 marked a significant milestone in ensuring equal rights and accessibility for individuals with disabilities, primarily addressing physical accessibility. However, the emergence of the internet has created new challenges for businesses striving to comply with ADA regulations. The ADA was enacted before the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web, and it lacks explicit guidance on how businesses should ensure digital accessibility. The absence of these specific guidelines has left many businesses uncertain about what constitutes compliance.

Deborah Laufer’s Lawsuits and the SCOTUS Decision

Individuals with disabilities can initiate the enforcement process by filing complaints with federal or state agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These agencies investigate complaints and may take legal action against entities thought to be in violation of ADA provisions.

Furthermore, any individual has the right to file a lawsuit if they believe their rights under the ADA have been infringed. Courts may then issue injunctions, award damages (including attorney’s fees), or mandate changes to facilities to rectify ADA violations. So, a $500 outlet move can come with $100,000 worth of attorney’s fees.

Deborah Laufer, a civil right “tester,” and others have gained attention for their legal actions against businesses in the lodging industry, focusing on ADA compliance issues. These lawsuits, involve businesses where she may not book a hotel room, allege a range of violations, including the failure to identify accessible rooms, provide booking options for individuals with disabilities, and offer sufficient information about accessible features. Laufer and other litigants conduct virtual assessments of business.

These lawsuits have raised critical questions about ADA compliance. Consideration of this issue by the U.S. Supreme Court further underscores its significance. 

The U.S. Supreme Court granted review of Laufer’s lawsuit against Acheson Hotels, LCC to consider the issue of standing because Laufer had no intent to stay at the hotel in question. 

While the construction industry and others were eager to learn whether these “testers” do in fact have standing, they will have to wait because on December 5, 2023, the case was vacated by SCOTUS because Laufer dismissed the underlying suit thus making her claims against that hotel moot.

The Implications for Architects

As architects, it is imperative that we remain informed about the evolving landscape of ADA compliance. SCOTUS’s interest in cases involving “testers” like Deborah Laufer, highlights the legal uncertainties that businesses and, indirectly, architects may face and the importance of keeping informed about all building codes. Architects play a pivotal role in designing physical spaces to meet ADA requirements. SCOTUS’s interest in hearing cases about the ADA underscores the significance for architects to ensure that the physical spaces they design meet all building codes including ADA standards.


The SCOTUS review of ADA compliance issues with cases involving civil rights “testers” such as Deborah Laufer, underscores the evolving challenges of ensuring accessibility in the digital age. Architects must remain vigilant and well-informed about this issue, as it has the potential to impact how businesses address ADA compliance.

The ADA, a landmark piece of legislation, and through SCOTUS’s deliberation and subsequent decisions, businesses, architects, and individuals with disabilities may gain a clearer understanding of the requirements for achieving ADA compliance. As this issue unfolds, architects should be prepared to integrate the principles of accessibility ensuring that they meet ADA standards as well as other relevant building codes.

Christopher D. Ling, AIA, NCARB, PP, LEED AP, is a seasoned construction expert with over three decades of experience. As a Registered Architect and Professional Planner, he has authored reports for 1000+ construction cases, totaling $2 billion. Founder of ARCHforensic® LLC, Ling specializes in resolving litigation claims through meticulous investigation and expert testimony.  

Link to SCOTUS Opinion

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