| U.S. Department of Justice |
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section
Enforcing the ADA
A Press Report from the Department of Justice for the Northeast Region: New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
This report covers the ADA activities of the Department of Justice after the ADA first went into effect on January 26, 1992.
Through lawsuits, consent decrees, and formal and informal settlement agreements the Department of Justice has achieved greater access for individuals with disabilities in hundreds of cases. Under general rules governing lawsuits brought by the Federal Government, the Department may not file a lawsuit unless it has first unsuccessfully attempted to settle the dispute through negotiations.
The Department may file lawsuits in Federal court to enforce the ADA and may obtain court orders including compensatory damages and back pay to remedy discrimination. Under title III the Department may also obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation.
Some lawsuits are resolved at the time the suit is filed or afterwards by means of a negotiated consent decree. Consent decrees are monitored and enforced by the Federal court in which they are entered.
The Department files amicus briefs in selected ADA cases in which it is not a party in order to guide courts in interpreting the ADA.
The Department sometimes resolves cases without filing a lawsuit by means of formal and informal agreements.
United States v. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles -- The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York filed suit against the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and Department of Education and the Three Village Central School District challenging a rule prohibiting persons who are missing an arm or leg from being employed as school bus drivers. The case arose from the complaint of an individual who had been employed for a number of years as a bus driver. He received an off-the-job injury that resulted in amputation of a leg. After several years of rehabilitation, which included being fitted with a prosthesis, he reapplied for a bus driver position. The private bus company that provides contract services to the school district tested his driving skills and was apparently prepared to rehire him but could not do so because of State regulations prohibiting anyone missing a limb from driving school buses. Soon after the lawsuit was filed the regulations were changed.
New Title III Lawsuits Challenge Stadium-style Theater Design --
United States v. AMC Entertainment, Inc. -- The Department filed suit against AMC Entertainment, Inc., and American Multi-Cinema, Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California for violating the ADA in the design, construction, and operation of stadium-style movie theaters in the AMC chain. The two theaters named in the complaint are the Norwalk Theater in Norwalk, California, and the Promenade 16 Theater in Woodland Hills, California. The newly constructed AMC theaters have two types of seats -- stadium-style seats, which provide comfortable, unobstructed lines of sight to the screen, and traditional seating, which is located on the sloped floor at the front of the theater immediately in front of the screen. Although AMC marketed the theaters as providing stadium-style seating, it placed the wheelchair seating only in the less desirable traditional seating on sloped floors. Wheelchair users are therefore denied a movie viewing experience that is comparable to that afforded to other members of the general public. The complaint also alleges other access violations including the failure to provide companion seating next to wheelchair seats; failure to provide handrails; inadequate space at wheelchair seating locations; and inaccessible concession counters, bathrooms, and telephones.
United States v. Cinemark USA, Inc. -- The Department filed suit against Cinemark USA, Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio alleging that three of Cinemark's Ohio theaters, as well as its stadium-style seating theaters across the country, violated the ADA by failing both to provide comparable lines of sight to wheelchair users and to make wheelchair seating locations an integral part of the stadium-style seating. Prior to this lawsuit, Cinemark filed suit against the Department of Justice in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas asserting that the Department's actions regarding stadium-style theaters violate the Administrative Procedure Act. The Department believes that suit is without merit and has asked the court to dismiss it.
Titles II and III
Pascuiti v. New York Yankees -- A consent decree entered into by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the New York Yankees, and the City of New York will vastly increase the number of accessible wheelchair seating locations at Yankee Stadium. In the past, a total of only 44 pairs of wheelchair and companion seating locations were available at the stadium, 12 of which were sold at the highest ticket price level and none of which were sold at any of the lowest three ticket price levels. Under the agreement, the Yankees and the city must increase the number of wheelchair and companion seating locations to up to 400 pairs of seating locations and disperse those seating locations throughout the lower levels of the stadium. These areas include infield and outfield seating on the field level, in the main level boxes, the main reserve section, the bleachers, the loge, and in two entirely new seating sections to be constructed in an area near Monument Park in left field and in an area behind right center field. The consent decree also requires the defendants to provide at least 300 designated aisle transfer seats in the stadium. In addition, the defendants agreed to sell tickets to both regular season and post-season games for all but 18 of the wheelchair seating locations at the three lowest ticket price levels (there are eight ticket price levels for the 2000 season), provide persons with disabilities the opportunity to purchase regular season and postseason tickets through all of the same methods afforded to persons without disabilities, and make components within Yankee Stadium, such as exterior and interior routes, signs, restrooms, telephones, drinking fountains, concession areas, elevators, ticket windows, restaurants, luxury suites, and press areas accessible to persons with disabilities. The Yankees also agreed to pay a $25,000 civil penalty and to make $10,000 in charitable contributions to charities chosen by the private plaintiffs.
U.S. v. Cipriani Fifth Avenue, LLC -- The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed and, at the same time settled by consent decree, a lawsuit against the current owners and operators, and the former operator, of the Rainbow Complex, a complex of restaurants, bars, and function rooms at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City that includes the Rainbow Room, the Promenade Bar, Rainbow and Stars, and the Park Suite. The suit alleged violations of the ADA's barrier removal and alterations requirements. The current owners and operators of the Rainbow Complex agreed to construct a new, fully accessible, alternate entrance to the Rainbow Room and a new, fully accessible unisex restroom. In addition to the restaurant, the consent decree requires extensive modifications that will open the other bars and function rooms of the complex to persons with disabilities. It also requires the complex to modify interior routes, interior doors, fire alarms, elevators, elevator lobbies, restrooms, and public telephones. In addition, the current owners and operators have agreed to develop written policies for providing goods and services to individuals with disabilities, including a new policy for the reservation of tables by persons with disabilities, and to make the new policies known to employees and patrons. The consent decree requires the former operator of the Rainbow Complex to pay $25,000 to the United States in civil penalties, and $15,000 to the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, a nonprofit veterans service organization that filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, on behalf of its members, against the Rainbow Room.
United States v. RCPI Trust and Radio City Productions LLC -- The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed, and resolved by consent decree, a lawsuit against the owners and operators of Radio City Music Hall, a historic theater dating from the 1930's. The theater has nearly 6,000 seats, with over 3,400 on the orchestra level, and the remainder on three mezzanine levels. Radio City agreed to install 59 wheelchair and companion seating locations and 60 aisle seats with removable armrests. It will also modify its ticketing policies to reserve accessible seats for persons with disabilities until all other seats are sold. To compensate for the lack of wheelchair seating on upper levels, Radio City will discount a portion of the orchestra wheelchair seating so that persons with disabilities will be able to purchase tickets at a range of prices comparable to the general public. Radio City also agreed to remove barriers affecting exterior and interior routes, doors, and elevators; service areas such as restrooms, telephones, drinking fountains, concession areas, and a ticket window; dressing rooms and adjacent shower/toilet rooms; and tour routes. Radio City will make available 240 assistive listening devices and install visual alarms that comply with the ADA. It will also provide signage throughout the public areas directing patrons with disabilities to accessible routes and service areas.
Friendly's Agrees to Chainwide Barrier Removal Program Under Title III -- The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts-based Friendly Ice Cream Corporation entered into a consent decree under which Friendly's will engage in an aggressive barrier-removal program to increase accessibility throughout its chain of 704 restaurants in 15 States. The consent order requires Friendly's to come into substantial compliance within six years. In the first year, Friendly's will complete barrier removal at 117 locations, including altering the entrances (removing steps, widening doorways, and redesigning vestibules) at those 93 restaurants that currently have inaccessible entrances. Other alterations required by the consent order include redesigning dining areas to accommodate wheelchair users; striping parking areas to include accessible spaces; and altering bathrooms by widening doorways, increasing unobstructed floor space, installing grab bars and accessible door hardware. In addition, the consent order requires the company to pay a civil penalty of $50,000.
United States v. Becker C.P.A. Review --In a consent decree resolving the first case filed by the Department of Justice under the ADA, Becker C.P.A. Review, which prepares over 10,000 students annually to take the national certified public accountant exam, agreed to amend its auxiliary aids policy. Becker will no longer limit its offered auxiliary aids to audiotape transcripts prepared for the instructors' use, and will provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters and assistive listening devices, to students with hearing impairments. The company may require a student to attend a consultation meeting, at which time the student would explain his or her individual needs and means of communication. Becker would explain the nature of the class and the proposed auxiliary aid or service. However, Becker may request that the student try its proposed aid or service at a Becker class prior to the session that the student wishes to attend. If the student can articulate, based on experience or skills, why the proposed aid or service will not provide effective communication, the student will not be requested to try out the proposed auxiliary aid or service. Becker also agreed to appoint a national ADA coordinator and to train its staff regarding the policy revision; pay $20,000 to the Department of Justice to be distributed to seven deaf and hearing impaired individuals, all former Becker students; and establish a $25,000 scholarship fund for accounting students who have hearing impairments at California State University.
NCAA Will Revise Eligibility Requirements to Accommodate Student-Athletes with Learning Disabilities -- Under a landmark consent decree, the National Collegiate Athletic Association will modify policies that each year prevented hundreds of students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities from playing college sports and receiving athletic scholarships. The agreement in United States v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, stems from a series of complaints lodged with the Department by student1athletes alleging that the NCAA's initial-eligibility academic requirements discriminate against student-athletes with learning disabilities. The agreement requires the NCAA to modify its policies while at the same time enabling it to maintain its academic standards. The NCAA agreed to --
- Revise its rules so that classes designed for students with learning disabilities can be certified as core courses if the classes provide students with the same types of knowledge and skills as other college-bound students;
- Allow students with learning disabilities who are unable to meet the initial eligibility rules when they graduate from high school to earn a fourth year of athletic eligibility if they complete a substantial percentage of their degree work and maintain good grades;
- Direct its committees that evaluate applications filed by students who do not meet the requirements but are seeking a waiver to consider a broad range of factors in reviewing the student's high school preparation and performance when deciding whether to grant a waiver and not to use a minimum qualifying test score on the SAT or ACT;
- Include experts on learning disabilities on the committees that evaluate waiver applications.
In addition, the consent decree requires the NCAA to undertake efforts designed to prevent further violations of the ADA, including designating one or more employees as an ADA compliance coordinator to serve as a resource to NCAA staff and as a liaison with students with learning disabilities; providing training to its staff regarding the new policies; and publicizing the terms of the agreement to high schools, students, parents, and member colleges and universities. The NCAA also agreed to pay a total of $35,000 in damages to four student-athletes.
Days Inns Will Promote Accessibility at New Hotels Nationwide -- The world's largest hotel chain agreed to undertake a nationwide initiative designed to make hundreds of its new hotels across the country more accessible to persons with disabilities. The consent decree, filed in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, Kentucky, resolves five lawsuits filed by the Department of Justice. The suits alleged that franchiser Days Inns of America, Inc, and its parent company, Cendant Corporation (formerly HFS, Inc), because of their significant role in the design and construction of new Days Inns hotels, violated the ADA by allowing franchisees to construct hotels that failed to comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Under the agreement, Days Inns will --
- require new hotels to certify that they are in compliance with the ADA Standards before they open for business as Days Inns;
- pay for an independent survey program designed to identify ADA problems at newly constructed hotels;
- establish a $4.75 million revolving fund to provide interest-free loans to franchisees of newly constructed hotels to finance repairs and renovations required for ADA compliance; and
- pay $50,000 to the United States.
The agreement ends four years of litigation that followed an 18-month investigation of newly constructed Days Inn hotels across the country. The investigation revealed that similar accessibility problems existed throughout the chain, including, for example, insufficient accessible parking, inaccessible entrances and walkways at the facilities; inadequate space for persons who use wheelchairs to maneuver in guestrooms and bathrooms; insufficient visual alarm systems for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing; inadequate signage for persons who are blind or have low vision; inaccessible routes throughout the hotels; and guestroom and bathroom doors that were not wide enough to allow wheelchairs to pass inside. The owners, contractors and all but one architect for each of the five hotels named in the lawsuits had earlier entered into consent decrees or agreements with the Department. This consent decree resolves the remaining claims against Days Inns of America and Cendant Corporation.
United States v. Ellerbe Becket, Inc. -- The Ellerbe Becket architectural firm agreed that all of the new sports stadiums and arenas that it designs in the future will be designed to provide wheelchair seating locations with a line of sight over standing spectators. The agreement specifically applies to any facility with more than four fixed seats and in which spectators can be expected to stand for all or any part of an event . The consent decree resolves the Department's lawsuit alleging that Ellerbe had violated the ADA by repeatedly designing new sports stadiums and arenas that violated the ADA new construction requirement for comparable lines of sight for wheelchair seating locations. Ellerbe argued that the court should dismiss the case because architects are not covered by title III of the ADA and because lines of sight over standing spectators are not required. The court disagreed with both of these arguments and allowed the case to continue.
Arnold v. United Artists Theatre Circuit, Inc. -- The Department entered into a formal agreement and consent decree with United Artists Theatre Circuit, Inc. (UATC), one of the nation's largest exhibitors of motion pictures, that will ensure compliance with the ADA's barrier removal and new construction provisions at more than 400 theater locations with approximately 2,300 screens throughout the United States. The consent decree, which was filed simultaneously with the Department's intervention in Arnold v. United Artists Theatre Circuit, Inc., will completely resolve that suit. The Arnold case was a private class action suit brought on behalf of California residents with mobility impairments who encountered barriers at UATC theaters. The agreement requires UATC to take the following actions in almost all of its existing theaters throughout the country within the next five years --
- provide parking spaces that comply in design and number with the requirements of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (the Standards);
- provide an accessible path of travel from parking spaces to an accessible theater entrance;
- provide in each auditorium the number of wheelchair seating spaces required in comparably-sized, newly-constructed auditoriums, with companion seating;
- ensure that one percent of the total number of seats is aisle seats with folding or removable aisle-side armrests;
- provide at least two dispersed wheelchair seating locations at a distance of from one-third to two-thirds of the way back from the screen in auditoriums with more than 300 seats; and
- modify existing restrooms to make them accessible or construct unisex accessible restrooms that comply with the Standards.
UATC will also be required to bring all theaters constructed for first occupancy after January 26, 1993, into full compliance with the Standards by no later than June 30, 1997, and to ensure that future construction complies with the Standards.
United States v. Harcourt Brace Legal and Professional Publications, Inc. -- A consent decree resolved this suit against the auxiliary aids policies of Harcourt Brace Legal and Professional Publications regarding Bar/Bri, the nation's largest preparatory course for individuals studying for bar examinations. The Department's complaint alleged that the Bar/Bri course failed to provide appropriate auxiliary aids to students with vision and hearing impairments. Under the consent decree, filed simultaneously with the complaint, Harcourt Brace agreed to establish a detailed set of procedures for identifying and providing appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including qualified sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices, and Brailled materials, to students with disabilities. In addition, Harcourt Brace has agreed to pay $28,000 in compensatory relief. This award is divided among two students, the California Department of Rehabilitation which provided the interpreter for one of the students, and the individual who converted the course materials into Braille for the other student. Harcourt Brace also agreed to pay $25,000 in civil penalties, adopt and implement a formal written policy ensuring that auxiliary aids and services are promptly and properly provided, educate Bar/Bri staff regarding students with disabilities, and include information regarding the availability of auxiliary aids and services for students with disabilities in its advertising materials.
Badillo v. Garcia -- The U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico filed an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit brought by an individual who is hard of hearing, who alleges he was denied appropriate auxiliary aids when he was a defendant in a civil action in Puerto Rico Superior Court. The plaintiff claims that the judge refused his request for an assistive listening device and provided him instead with a wheeled secretary's chair, so that he could move around the proceedings closer to whomever was speaking. The lawsuit seeks damages against several Commonwealth officials involved in court administration and the judge who refused his auxiliary aid request. The U.S. Attorney's brief argues that the Commonwealth's claim that the administrators are immune from a suit for damages in their official capacities is incorrect given that the ADA specifically provides that States may be sued like other parties. The brief also argues that the judge does not enjoy the traditional judicial immunity from damages suits because in this case the decision denying the auxiliary aid was administrative rather than judicial in nature.
Bartlett v. New York State Board of Law Examiners -- The Department filed an additional amicus brief in support of a New York bar applicant with dyslexia who seeks accommodations including extra time for taking the New York State Bar Examination. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit earlier ruled that, because of her dyslexia, the applicant's ability to decode words in a timely fashion was significantly restricted as compared to the average person in the general population and therefore that she was a person with a disability under the ADA. The court did not take into account the applicant's history of self-adjustments, which allowed her to achieve roughly average reading skills on some measures, in determining whether her dyslexia substantially limited the major life activities of reading or learning. The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court which returned the case to the Second Circuit for review in light of the Supreme Court's 1999 rulings that mitigating measures should be taken into account in determining whether an individual is a person with a disability. The Department's latest brief argues that even taking her efforts at self-accommodation into account the applicant still lacks automaticity in decoding words and remains substantially limited in the major life activity of reading.
Rosenthal v. State Board of Law Examiners, New York -- A law school graduate with learning disabilities filed a lawsuit charging that the New York State Board of Law Examiners had refused to make reasonable adjustments in its procedures to give her an equal opportunity to pass the State bar exam. In settling the case the State Board agreed to let her take the exam in a separate room, take twice the usual amount of time, and have the assistance of a person to transcribe her answers onto the multiple choice answer sheet. During the litigation the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief arguing that both title II and title III of the ADA require reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures when necessary to avoid discrimination in testing.
Medical Society of New Jersey v. New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners, New Jersey -- The Medical Society of New Jersey filed suit challenging certain questions on the State medical board's application for renewal of medical licenses. The Department filed an amicus brief arguing that broad questions pertaining to a history of psychiatric illness or a history of drug or alcohol abuse, not drawn to focus on current impairments of a physician's fitness to practice medicine, are discriminatory under title II of the ADA. In a procedural ruling, the Federal district court agreed that a licensing process that places greater burdens on individuals because of positive responses to the challenged questions would likely violate title II.
Ozga v. Modern Dental Concepts -- The Department filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit arguing that title III of the ADA does not require a private individual to exhaust State administrative procedures prior to filing a lawsuit in Federal court.
Access to 9-1-1 Systems -- U.S. Attorney's offices entered written agreements to ensure direct, equally effective access for TDD users to 9-1-1 emergency systems in six localities --
Hempstead, New York
Mount Vernon, New York
New Rochelle, New York
Port Chester, New York
White Plains, New York
Yonkers, New York
The agreements require each 9-1-1 center to have TDD capability at each call-taker position, to query every "silent call" with a TDD, and to thoroughly train each call-taker in handling TDD calls.
Auxiliary Aids and Services -- The Department reached separate agreements with police departments in Montgomery County, Maryland, Glendale, Arizona, Roswell, New Mexico, and Rochester, New York, requiring them to develop policies and procedures to ensure that appropriate auxiliary aids and services are provided in their interactions with individuals who have hearing impairments. The departments agreed to establish procedures to ensure that deaf individuals who use sign language would have interpreters in circumstances where interpreters are necessary for effective communication -- for example, when criminal suspects are being advised of their constitutional rights or being questioned by police. The police departments agreed to train police officers on the appropriate use of interpreter services and to ensure that interpreters are sufficiently qualified.
Albany County, New York -- The Department entered into an agreement with the Albany County Probation Department to resolve a complaint alleging that Albany County failed to provide sign language interpreters for scheduled meetings with probation officers. Albany County agreed to adopt a policy to furnish auxiliary aids and services when necessary to ensure effective communication in the services, programs, and activities of the Probation Department.
West Seneca, New York -- The Department reached an agreement with the Town of West Seneca, New York, resolving a complaint alleging that the town does not provide an adequate number of accessible parking spaces at each of its public facilities. West Seneca agreed to take specific actions to ensure that accessible parking is provided in accordance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design, including requirements for signage, access aisles, and accessible routes.
Clifton Park, New York -- The Department entered into an agreement with the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Fire District to resolve a complaint alleging that the fire district had refused to accept the complainant's application for membership as a volunteer firefighter with the fire district solely because the complainant is deaf. The fire district has formally agreed to evaluate its applicants on an individual basis to determine whether, with or without reasonable modifications in policies or practices, they can satisfy the essential eligibility requirements of the position.
Phelps, New York -- The Town of Phelps, New York, agreed to implement policies and procedures for the provision of auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication in town activities. The complainant had alleged that Phelps did not provide him with an assistive listening device that would have afforded him an equal opportunity to participate in town meetings.
Tyrone, New York -- The Town of Tyrone agreed that the inaccessible second floor of a newly constructed addition will not be used for public programs, services, and activities, but instead will be used for storage purposes only. If programs or activities are conducted on the second level in the future, an elevator or lift will be installed to provide an accessible route to the second level. All town employees will be informed of the restricted use of the second floor. The town also agreed to provide ADA training to its employees, evaluate whether its current services, policies, and practices meet the requirements of the ADA, and make any modifications that are necessary.
Off-Track Betting Corporation, Albany, New York -- The Department entered into a formal agreement with the regional Off-Track Betting Corporation in Albany, New York (OTB), under which OTB agreed to provide the number of parking spaces with access aisles required by the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The complainant had alleged that recent alterations to OTB's parking lot did not comply with the requirements of title II.
Rome, New York -- The Department entered into an agreement with the City of Rome, New York, and the Unified Court System of the State of New York requiring that the City design and construct its proposed new court house facility (or in the alternative renovate the old court house facility) in conformance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design. In addition, the City must post notices at all entrances to the building in which the Rome City Court currently offers its programs indicating how individuals with disabilities may obtain equal access to the programs operated from the inaccessible second floor of the building. Upon notice, the Rome City Court will move its activities to accessible locations.
Belvidere, New Jersey -- The Department entered into an agreement with the Town of Belvidere, New Jersey, requiring it to design and construct its proposed new services building in conformance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design. In addition, the Town will post notices at all entrances to inaccessible buildings, and upon notice, the city will move its services, programs, and activities to accessible locations.
Liberty, New York -- In order to facilitate write-in voting, the Liberty Central School District agreed to provide paper ballots for all future school district elections and to provide notice of their availability. The agreement resolved a complaint alleging that the machine voting system in use prevented some individuals with mobility and manual dexterity impairments from casting write-in votes in a school board election.
Town of Lloyd, New York -- The Justice Court for the Town of Lloyd, New York, agreed to establish a policy ensuring effective communication in court proceedings, including the provision of qualified interpreters upon reasonable notice. This agreement resolves a complaint alleging that the court failed to ensure effective communication with an individual who requested an oral interpreter in order to attend the trial of a friend.
Rockland County, New York -- The Department concluded an agreement with the Rockland County Board of Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling Examiners to resolve a complaint alleging that the Board violated title II by denying a plumber with dyslexia a reader or oral test as an accommodation on the written portion of the County's master plumber licensing exam. The individual has been a plumber for 42 years, owned his own business until the County passed its licensing law in the late 1960's, and received numerous recommendations from former employers attesting to his quality work performance and experience as a plumber and heating mechanic. Despite his qualifications, the Board denied his requests for the testing accommodation for the past 23 years. Under the agreement, the Board is required to provide the plumber with a reader or an oral test during the written portion of the Board's next licensing examination. The Board is also required to adopt a nondiscrimination policy on the basis of disability which is subject to Department of Justice approval. The agreement followed the issuance of a letter of findings holding that the Board had violated title II.
Majestic Theater, New York, New York -- The Shubert Organization agreed to improve accessibility at the landmark Majestic Theater by installing a unisex wheelchair accessible restroom on the lobby level and four wheelchair accessible seats in the orchestra.
Empire State Building, New York, New York -- The owners and operators of the Empire State Building agreed to take wide-ranging measures to ensure access to public areas of the building. The agreement mandates changes to the lobby, entrance, observation decks, restrooms and telephones, but does not cover any privately leased office space in the building. The complaint alleged that the Empire State Building was operating in violation of the ADA because its owners and operators failed to remove architectural barriers where such removal was readily achievable.
Sardi's Restaurant, New York, New York -- Sardi's Restaurant in New York City agreed to resolve a complaint that the restaurant's restrooms were inaccessible for persons who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices. Sardi's will install an accessible unisex restroom and signage indicating the location of the restroom.
Inter-Continental Hotel, New York, New York -- The Department entered a wide-ranging formal agreement with the Inter-Continental Hotel in midtown New York, a member of a chain of prestigious hotels in major cities. The hotel will make numerous changes to its 691-room facility and procedures over the next five years, including removing physical barriers in public areas such as the front entrance, lobby, and ballroom, as well as in 21 guest rooms; providing television decoders, telephone handset amplifiers, visual smoke alarms, and visual door knock and telephone indicators in 35 guest rooms; making elevator modifications to provide access for persons with vision impairments; and modifying reservation and room assignment policies to ensure that accessible rooms are made available to those who request them.
Municipal Credit Union, New York, New York -- A branch office of the Municipal Credit Union in New York City was inaccessible to people with mobility impairments. The Credit Union agreed to install a ramp at the entrance, to notify its customers of the ramp, to post appropriate signs, and to instruct the staff to provide assistance when requested by an individual with a disability.
Greyhound to Improve Bus Service to Passengers with Disabilities -- An agreement between the Department and Greyhound Lines Inc., will improve the availability and quality of accessible bus service for persons with disabilities. The agreement resolves a wide range of complaints including the denial of passage or boarding assistance to persons with mobility or vision impairments, injuries to passengers while being physically carried on and off buses, and verbal harassment. It requires Greyhound to pay more than $17,500 in damages, which includes individual payments to 14 complainants ranging from $500 to $4,000. Current Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations permit carrying, but require Greyhound to provide lift-equipped bus service on 48 hours' notice beginning in October 2001. The agreement will minimize the need for carrying passengers with disabilities by phasing in accessible bus service in three stages, beginning two years before lift-equipped service is required by the DOT rules. Under the agreement, Greyhound will --
- (through March 31, 2000 only) provide, with 48 hours' notice through its ADA Hotline, a lift-equipped bus or assistive device on scheduled departures to and from locations where these buses are operated (generally along major routes serving a large proportion of Greyhound passengers) or where assistive devices can be made available to passengers who request such accommodations;
- on 48 hours' notice, make reasonable efforts to provide an accessible bus between any of the approximately 2,600 points served by Greyhound; and,
- (beginning no later than April 1, 2000) guarantee accessible buses between any points served by Greyhound, on 48 hours' notice, except in a limited set of "excusable circumstances" defined in the agreement.
The agreement also requires Greyhound to --
- provide training to employees assisting any person with a disability;
- establish an internal dispute resolution procedure for addressing complaints by persons with disabilities within 90 days;
- inform individuals with disabilities of their rights under the ADA and the agreement;
- convene a meeting of a specially created advisory committee of representatives from organizations advocating the rights of persons with disabilities to advise Greyhound on its training programs and policies by September 30, 1999; and,
- continue systematically removing barriers to access in Greyhound facilities.
The Department of Justice has created a plain language guide for bus passengers -- available through the ADA Information Line, the ADA Home Page, and ADA Fax on Demand (document #3400) -- that explains the requirements of the Greyhound agreement and the DOT regulations.
Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza Hotels will Improve Access and Modify Reservation Policies -- The Department signed two agreements with Bass Hotels & Resorts (BHR) and 20 separate agreements with individual hotel franchise owners to resolve ADA violations throughout BHR's Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza hotel chains. The agreement with BHR on reservations and rental policies requires that each hotel in the two chains must --
- guarantee reservations for accessible rooms as they guarantee other types of reservations;
- hold all accessible rooms for persons with disabilities until 6 p.m., at which time they can release all but two (one in each of the two standard categories of single and double bed rooms), which must be held until all other rooms of that type are sold; and
- compile a list of accessibility features to be kept at the hotel's front desk and made available to anyone who calls the hotel or the central reservations system.
The second agreement requires BHR to make modifications in three hotels it currently owns or manages and to pay $75,000 to the Key Bridge Foundation to establish a mediation program for ADA complaints. BHR will also pay a total of approximately $75,000 to the United States and the complainants to resolve all outstanding issues.
The Department also reached 20 agreements with Holiday Inn and Crown Plaza franchisees resolving accessibility complaints involving hotels at the following locations:
Montgomery East, Alabama
Phoenix City, Arizona
SunSpree Resort, Scottsdale, Arizona
Financial District, San Francisco, California
Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco, California
Huntington Beach, California
Downtown Denver, Colorado
Powers Ferry, Atlanta, Georgia
Overland Park, Kansas
Astrodome, Houston, Texas
Those agreements require a wide range of modifications, including removal of barriers to access, provision of auxiliary aids, and staff training.
Waiting Lines will be Accessible at Wendy's Restaurants -- Nearly 1,700 Wendy's restaurants will become more accessible to their customers with disabilities under an agreement reached with the Department of Justice and nine State Attorneys General. The out-of-court agreement stems from a joint nationwide investigation of the restaurant chain by the Department of Justice and nine States -- the first time the Department has teamed up with States to launch an investigation under the ADA. Under the agreement, Wendy's International, Inc. will either widen the queues in which customers wait to order food, or remove the railings or other dividers marking the queues to accommodate customers who use wheelchairs. Prior to this agreement, customers who use wheelchairs had to cut to the front of the line or stand outside the customer queue and wait to be recognized by a restaurant employee because the queues were too narrow. The agreement resolves a two-year investigation into access issues at Wendy's restaurants by the Department of Justice and State Attorneys General from Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The joint task force visited newly constructed and older Wendy's restaurants in 12 States, which include the nine States, as well as Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington.
Under the agreement, the Ohio-based chain has agreed to --
- either remove or widen the customer queues at all of its nearly 1,700 corporate-owned or leased restaurants in 39 States;
- modify its prototype architectural plans for future restaurants, both corporate-owned and franchised, to incorporate accessible customer queue designs;
- notify all franchisees of the agreement and their obligations under the ADA, and provide them with technical assistance;
- allow the task force to conduct spot checks of restaurants covered by the agreement to ensure that customer queues have been removed or widened;
- remove various other barriers found at the 17 newly constructed restaurants visited by members of the joint task force;
- pay the joint task force $50,000; and
- pay a total of $12,000 in damages to five individuals or entities who filed complaints with the Department of Justice or State Attorney Generals offices, regarding accessibility at Wendy's.
Marriott International, Inc., Bethesda, Maryland -- The Department entered into an agreement with Marriott International, Inc., establishing policies for reserving accessible rooms at all of its Courtyard by Marriott facilities throughout the country. This agreement serves as a standard for the hotel industry nationwide. Marriott will ensure that accessible rooms will not be reserved for nondisabled persons unless all other rooms in a facility have been reserved and only accessible rooms are left, and that the central reservations office will be able to guarantee accessible rooms for any Courtyard hotel at a customer's request, provided such rooms are available. It also requires that Marriott's Guest Relations Office maintain a list of accessible rooms at all Courtyard hotels and keep the list updated, and that employees at all Courtyard facilities receive training on the obligations of places of lodging under the ADA. Additionally, Marriott will undertake substantial barrier removal in the parking area, two public restrooms, and guest rooms of a Memphis, Tennessee, Courtyard by Marriott facility that was the subject of a specific complaint, and will purchase equipment to make five additional rooms at that facility accessible to persons with hearing impairments. The complainant alleged that although he and his wife, who has a disability and uses a wheelchair, were guaranteed an accessible room at the facility, they were assigned to an inaccessible room, and staff at the facility did not offer them adequate assistance with finding suitable accommodations elsewhere. Marriott will pay the complainants $10,000 in compensatory damages and will pay civil penalties of $7,500.
Avis Inc., Garden City, New York -- Through a negotiated agreement, the Department resolved its investigation of Avis, Inc., the country's second largest car rental establishment. Under the agreement, Avis has committed to providing rental vehicles equipped with hand controls to persons with disabilities at all corporately-owned locations. Hand controls will be available on eight hours notice in all major airport locations and on 24 or 48 hours notice at other facilities, depending on certain factors. Avis agreed to provide training at all corporate locations. Avis will urge all existing licensees to adopt the same measures, and will require all new franchisees and those renewing their contracts to follow the agreement. The agreement also references two previously-resolved investigations, where Avis has made substantial changes to its rental policies to accommodate persons with disabilities. When renting to persons who do not use credit cards, Avis will allow persons who are unemployed due to a disability to substitute verifiable disability-related income in lieu of a verifiable employment history. Also, persons who cannot drive due to a disability will now be able to rent cars in their own name and maintain financial responsibility for a car rental when they are accompanied by a licensed driver.
Avis Rent A Car will Improve Access to Airport Shuttle Systems for People with Disabilities -- The nation's second largest rental car company agreed to provide accessible airport shuttle buses at all of its airport locations nationwide. The agreement between Avis Rent A Car, Inc., and the Department of Justice resolved a complaint filed by a traveler who uses a wheelchair alleging that Avis violated the ADA by not providing access to the shuttle system that operates between the terminal at the Detroit Metro Airport and its offsite rental car facilities. During negotiations, Avis agreed to expand the agreement to cover all of its airport shuttle systems nationwide. Avis will ensure that --
- each of the 36 shuttle systems at airport locations that it owns and operates will have at least one accessible vehicle by December 2000; some locations will have several accessible vehicles;
- all newly acquired large shuttle vehicles will be accessible;
- accessible curbside service, under which rented vehicles are delivered directly to the terminal where the customer with a disability is waiting, will be provided at all locations; and
- barriers to access will be identified and removed at each airport location.
When the Department began its investigation, Avis had only six lift-equipped vehicles out of 286 in its fleet. When Avis is in full compliance with the agreement, it will have at least 153 accessible vehicles.
Dollar, Inc., Washington, D.C. -- Dollar, Inc., one of the largest car rental establishments in the country, agreed to modify its rental policies to permit people with disabilities to rent cars when accompanied by licensed drivers. Prior to the agreement, Dollar required the licensed driver to be the financially responsible party. This policy made it impossible for people with disabilities who cannot drive (for example, people with visual impairments) to rent cars, even when they had a licensed driver accompanying them. Under the agreement, an individual with a disability who is the financially responsible party may rent a car using his or her own credit card, while a driver accompanying the individual presents his or her own driver's license. All Dollar licensees renewing existing contracts or entering into new contracts subsequent to the agreement will be required to adopt the new policy.
Safeway Agreement has Nationwide Impact -- The Department entered a major agreement with Safeway Stores, Inc., affecting all 835 Safeway stores in the United States. The agreement requires Safeway to create at least one 32-inch opening between the security bollards or cart corrals used at the entrances to many of its stores so that customers who use wheelchairs can have greater access. Safeway will also launch a nationwide compliance plan where it will survey all of its 835 stores, determine the areas throughout the stores that do not meet ADA requirements, and take steps to ensure compliance. The agreement resolved a complaint filed with the Department regarding a Safeway store in Washington, D.C. Other parties to the agreement include two individuals with disabilities and the Disability Rights Council of Washington, D.C., which sued the chain under the ADA, as well as the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, which had received several complaints about Safeway's California stores.
Smith Barney, Inc., Washington, D.C. -- The Department reached a formal agreement with Smith Barney, a nationwide financial planning services company, as a result of which Smith Barney will provide financial statements and correspondence in large print to its customers with vision impairments. (Smith Barney already provides documents in Braille.) The enlarged print documents will be provided free of charge, upon request. Smith Barney will also pay a person who filed a complaint with the Department $1,500. Notice of the service will be sent to 55,000 new customers, and over 40,000 potential customers, each month.
KinderCare Learning Centers, Inc., Columbus, Ohio -- The Department reached an agreement with KinderCare, the nation's largest proprietary child care provider, that will allow children with diabetes to enroll at any of KinderCare's 1100 centers nationwide. The agreement, which serves as a model for the child care industry throughout the country, requires KinderCare to perform finger-stick tests at the request of parents in order to monitor the blood sugar level of their children and to take appropriate action. It does not require that KinderCare administer insulin injections. KinderCare also agreed to engage in a three-year ADA training initiative for its employees and to appoint a disability services coordinator. The agreement resolves a Department of Justice investigation and a private lawsuit brought by the American Diabetes Association, its Ohio affiliate, and the next friend of Jesi Stuthard. Jesi had been denied the opportunity to attend a KinderCare Learning Center near Columbus, Ohio, because of his diabetes and KinderCare's refusal to perform glucose monitoring.
Nationwide Child Care Agreement Accommodates Children with Food Allergies, Diabetes, other Disabilities -- The Department reached an agreement with La Petite Academy, Inc., the nation's second largest child care provider, protecting the rights of children with severe food allergies and other disabilities, including diabetes and cerebral palsy. La Petite Academy, Inc., which operates over 750 day care centers nationwide, has agreed to administer epinephrine, a form of adrenaline, to those children who experience life-threatening allergic reactions to certain foods, such as peanuts, or bee stings. If authorized by parents and a physician, La Petite staff will use a small pen-like device (sold as Epipen, Jr., or under other names) that carries a premeasured dose of epinephrine to alleviate a reaction. The staff person simply removes a safety cap and presses the pen against the thigh of the child, discharging the epinephrine. The agreement awards damages in the amount of $55,000 to five children who were allegedly affected by La Petite's lack of reasonable modifications for children with disabilities. Three were children whose food allergies prevented them from enrollment without the availability of the Epipen, Jr. Two were children with cerebral palsy, who were denied reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that would enable them to continue in child care. La Petite also adopted a policy for administering finger-stick tests to measure the blood glucose levels of children with diabetes.
Educational Testing Service, New York, New York -- The Educational Testing Service and the College Entrance Examination Board agreed to schedule more dates in 1994 for more than 20,000 students with disabilities wishing to take the new version of the Scholastic Assessment Test. Under the original testing schedule, students with disabilities requiring accommodations were offered only one date to take the updated version, as opposed to their peers who had several opportunities to take the test. The agreement also allowed approximately 2,600 students with disabilities who took the old version of the test the chance to cancel their scores and retake the new exam.
Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloons, Wichita, Kansas -- Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloons, a nationwide restaurant chain operating 105 restaurants in 29 States, agreed to bring 97 new or altered facilities into full compliance with the ADA within 45 days, and comply with the ADA in the alteration and new construction of its restaurants in the future. This agreement was the first resulting from a compliance review, a process by which the Department, in the absence of a complaint, reviews architectural plans for new construction and alterations to assess compliance. Initial review of architectural plans revealed violations of the ADA, and site visits confirmed Lone Star's failure to provide accessible routes from parking areas, and other accessible features including seating, restrooms, and parking. Under the terms of the agreement, Lone Star is contributing $25,000 to four disability advocacy groups, in amounts of $6,250 each.
Movie Theater Chain Agrees to Nationwide Agreement -- Cineplex Odeon Corporation, one of the nation's largest operators of motion picture theaters, agreed to increase significantly the number of receivers it provides for assistive listening systems in its more than 800 motion picture theater auditoriums throughout the United States. Prior to this model agreement, Cineplex provided four receivers for each auditorium, regardless of its size. The company will now provide receivers at the rate of two percent of seats in all auditoriums that opened prior to January 26, 1993. It will also provide receivers at a rate of four percent of seats in all auditoriums where audio-amplification systems have been replaced since January 26, 1992, in order to comply with ADA provisions governing alterations to existing places of public accommodation. (The company already provides receivers at the rate of four percent of seats in new theaters, in strict compliance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.) Cineplex Odeon also agreed to provide one neck loop per screen in theaters with six or fewer screens and one for every two screens in theaters with more than six screens. Neck loops facilitate the use of assistive listening systems by people who use hearing aids. Additionally, the company will monitor use of assistive listening systems at all theaters and purchase additional receivers where necessary to meet additional demand, even at theaters where receivers will be provided at the rate of four percent of seats.
The agreement also contains strong provisions requiring maintenance, advertisement, and promotion of the use of assistive listening systems. Cineplex will ensure that employees at all theaters know where receivers are located and how they work in order to respond to customer questions, test systems periodically, and ensure prompt repair of equipment. The company will promote the use of assistive listening systems at its theaters by developing a brochure to be distributed to audiologists in all of the areas of the country where it has theaters, by advertising the availability of systems in newspapers and on pre-recorded telephone announcements for every theater, and, beginning January 1, 1997, by displaying an on-screen announcement prior to every feature film shown at a Cineplex Odeon theater indicating that assistive listening systems are available.
A town in New York agreed to relocate its monthly meetings to an accessible location and to provide notice in local newspapers of the town's policy for providing program accessibility.
A New Jersey borough agreed to hold public meetings in accessible locations and to make modifications to its existing meeting hall to provide access for individuals with mobility impairments.
A New Jersey fire district will now ensure that all polling places are accessible to individuals with disabilities, including those with mobility impairments.
A New Jersey tavern agreed to provide an accessible entrance to the facility.
A small-town restaurant in upstate New York modified its policies to allow patrons who use service animals access to the restaurant, and also removed architectural barriers in the parking lot and at the entrance.
In New York, two people who are blind complained that a limousine service charged them extra because they were accompanied by their service animals. The owner stated that this was a violation of existing company policy. The owner agreed to distribute the Department's policy on service animals to company staff and to provide the complainants with one free trip.
A wheelchair user complained that a New York theater was not accessible and had no accessible restrooms. The theater agreed to create accessible paths of travel from each parking lot to the entrance and to install a ramp to the entrance of the building. The theater agreed to create several wheelchair accessible seating locations in the theater, to modify a restroom to make it accessible, and to install handrails for stairs at side and back entrances to the building.
In New Jersey, a wheelchair user complained that a restaurant's accessible parking did not comply with the ADA and that the entrance to the dining room was not accessible. The manager agreed to modify the accessible parking space, to have an additional ramp created to the entrance to the restaurant, to relocate the service podium at the entrance to the dining room to provide access for wheelchair users, and to train the staff to maintain a clear path of travel between the accessible seating and the accessible restrooms. The manager also agreed to install a bell at the counter that rings in the kitchen, so that staff is alerted that customers have entered the restaurant.
In New Jersey, a representative of a disability rights organization complained that a shopping center did not provide accessible parking or enough curb ramps. The shopping center repaired the parking lot surface, restriped the parking lot to provide accessible parking, including van accessible spaces, installed new curb ramps, and repaired existing curb ramps.
In New Jersey, a wheelchair user complained that a building containing a therapist's office did not have accessible parking. The building owner agreed to create an additional accessible parking space and a van-accessible parking space adjacent to the building entrance. The owner also agreed to reduce the opening force of the front and rear entrance doors.
A wheelchair user complained that a New York car towing service had its office on the fourth floor and could not be accessed by people unable to climb stairs. The respondent agreed to post a sign and install a telephone so that people unable to climb stairs could contact the office to have an appropriate accommodation made to allow them to transact business. In this case, the respondent would bring the necessary paperwork downstairs to the complainant. The respondent also agreed to pay the complainant $500.
New York Federal Court Allows Interpreter Damages Suit to Proceed -- In Constance v. State University of New York Health Science Center, the Department filed an amicus brief in support of a hospital emergency room trauma patient and her husband, both of whom are deaf, who claim that the New York Health Science Center violated the ADA by failing to provide them the services of a sign language interpreter despite repeated requests. The brief argued that both the patient and her husband have standing to bring this lawsuit and that if they prove the facts in the complaint they should be entitled to damages. Because the defendants challenged the constitutionality of title II, the Department also intervened to defend its constitutionality. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York rejected the State's constitutional challenge and found that the plaintiffs had alleged enough evidence of "deliberate indifference" to plaintiffs ADA rights to allow a suit for damages to proceed. The court also gave the plaintiffs the opportunity to establish their standing to bring this case by allowing them to amend their complaint to allege that they are likely to be subjected to discrimination again by the same hospital.
Appellate Court Finds Zoning Covered by Title II -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Innovative Health Systems, Inc. (IHS) v. City of White Plains that title II covers all the activities of State and local government, including zoning practices. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed an amicus brief supporting plaintiffs' efforts to obtain a preliminary injunction stopping White Plains, New York, from preventing the operation of an alcohol and drug dependency treatment program in its downtown area. The Court also ruled that Innovative Health Systems, Inc., as an organization, has standing to challenge the City's action under title II, and that IHS was entitled to a preliminary injunction.
Supreme Court Says ADA Clearly Protects Prison Inmates -- In a unanimous opinion the Supreme Court ruled in Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v. Yeskey that a motivational boot camp operated for selected inmates by the Pennsylvania State prison system is subject to the requirements of title II of the ADA. Prisoners who successfully complete the boot camp program are entitled to a significant reduction in their sentence. The Court agreed with the Department of Justice in ruling that the broad language of title II clearly covers prisons and provides no basis for distinguishing programs, services, or activities of prisons from those provided by other public entities. It rejected the State's arguments that the law is ambiguous and that prisoners cannot be "qualified individuals with disabilities" because they are not in prison voluntarily.
Supreme Court Declares that Unjustified Isolation Is Discrimination -- In Olmstead v. L.C., the Supreme Court ruled that the ADA's "most integrated setting appropriate" mandate requires States to avoid undue institutionalization of people with disabilities. As urged by the Department in its amicus brief, the Court upheld the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that Georgia may have violated the ADA by confining two individuals with mental disabilities in an institution rather than providing services through a community-based program as recommended by the State's treating professionals. In finding that unjustified isolation is a form of discrimination under the ADA, the Court pointed to the stigma of unworthiness, and the unequal access to family and social interaction, employment, education, and cultural enrichment that result from unnecessary institutionalization. According to the Court, an institutional placement is unjustified when the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate, the transfer is not opposed by the individual, and the placement can be accomplished without fundamentally altering the State's program. In applying the fundamental alteration defense, courts are to consider not only the expense of providing community-based care to the plaintiffs in a particular case, but also the "need to maintain a range of facilities for the care and treatment of persons with diverse disabilities" and "the States' obligation to administer services with an even hand."
Supreme Court Affirms that Receipt of Social Security Disability Benefits Does Not Automatically Bar ADA Suit -- The Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp., as urged by the Department in an amicus brief, that in determining whether a plaintiff is a qualified individual with a disability in a title I employment suit, courts should not give any special weight to the fact that the individual has also applied for Social Security disability benefits. In Cleveland, the plaintiff, after suffering a stroke and losing her job, applied for and obtained Social Security benefits, claiming she was unable to work because of her disability. Subsequently, she filed suit under the ADA contending that she was qualified for the job and that she was discriminated against because the employer fired her without providing reasonable accommodation. The Court agreed with the Department that because the qualification standards under Social Security and the ADA are different, application for or receipt of Social Security benefits is not by itself inconsistent with being a qualified individual with a disability. For example, Social Security does not consider reasonable accommodation in determining whether an applicant is able to perform the applicant's past or other work. The court also ruled that, in order to avoid having her suit dismissed, the plaintiff must provide an explanation that would allow a reasonable juror to conclude that, despite having applied and received Social Security benefits, the plaintiff could still perform the essential functions of her job with or without reasonable accommodation.
Supreme Court Finds Collective Bargaining Agreement did not Waive Employee's Right to Bring ADA Suit -- In Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corporation, the Supreme Court ruled that a South Carolina longshoreman could file an ADA lawsuit charging employment discrimination even though the job was covered by a collective bargaining agreement that generally required arbitration of employee grievances. The Court agreed with an amicus brief filed by the Department of Justice that the arbitration provision at issue in the agreement between the International Longshoremen's Association and several South Carolina stevedore companies was not specific enough to waive an employee's right to seek court enforcement of ADA rights. The Court did not reach the issue of whether even an unmistakably clear agreement could require an individual to arbitrate a claim rather than go to court.
Supreme Court Rules Asymptomatic HIV-infected Patient is Person with a Disability -- The Supreme Court decided in Bragdon v. Abbott that asymptomatic HIV status is a disability under the ADA. Plaintiff, a dental patient in Bangor, Maine, infected with HIV, but who had no outward symptoms of the disease, was denied treatment by a dentist. The patient filed suit under the ADA, alleging that, as a result of the virus, she was "disabled" and therefore protected by the Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that the patient's asymptomatic HIV status constituted a disability because it was a physical impairment that substantially limited the "major life activity" of reproduction. The Supreme Court agreed with the amicus brief filed by the Department of Justice and upheld the court of appeals in a 5-4 decision, finding that asymptomatic HIV status met all the requirements under the statutory definition of a disability -- it is a physical impairment (from the moment of infection), it impairs the major life activity of reproduction, and it "substantially limits" that activity. The court also emphasized that its conclusion was consistent with the Department of Justice's views on this issue as expressed in its regulations and technical assistance manual. As to whether the plaintiff's HIV infection posed a "direct threat" to the dentist's health, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the court of appeals for further review of the evidence.
Supreme Court Will Review Constitutionality of ADA Damages Suits Against States -- The Supreme Court will review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Garrett v. University of Alabama at Birmingham, which upheld the constitutionality of title I and title II lawsuits brought by individuals seeking damages awards from States. The Department intervened to defend the ADA in numerous suits nationwide, including Garrett. Most appellate courts have agreed with the Department and upheld the ADA suits against States. Garrett is a consolidation of two employment suits against Alabama State agencies. One involves the alleged discriminatory demotion of an individual with breast cancer by the University of Alabama, and the other a claim that the Alabama Department of Youth Services failed to reasonably accommodate an individual with chronic asthma. States have argued that, because the ADA's protections go beyond the equal protection rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress lacks authority to subject them to lawsuits under title I and title II of the ADA. The Department, however, believes that the ADA is constitutionally appropriate legislation to remedy the history of pervasive discrimination against people with disabilities, and almost all of the appellate courts have agreed.
last update: June 27, 2000