ADA Consent Decree Entered Between Department Of Justice And Local Restaurant
Kenyen R. Brown, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, announces the successful investigation and resolution of a complaint made by a person with disabilities who, like many others, could not access a local restaurant. Today, the federal district court entered a Consent Decree between the Department of Justice and the owners and operators of Cotton’s Restaurant in Orange Beach, Alabama.
When retiree Roland Barbier, Sr. of Mississippi was vacationing in Orange Beach, Alabama in 2010, he and his family heard of a place with a reputation for great seafood dining. Because he was a person with disabilities who used an assistive device (a walker), he attempted to enter Cotton’s Restaurant but was prevented from doing so because of the number of steps and stairs involved. There was no ramp, no chair lift, nor any elevator. While his family members could access and enjoy the beautiful views of the Gulf of Mexico from the dining room and the food served there, he could not. As a result, the entire family wishing to dine there was forced to leave and to find another, accessible restaurant. Mr. Barbier was representative of many persons with disabilities who could not access the restaurant.
A notice of complaint (based upon an alleged violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA]) and initiation of the investigation was issued to Cotton’s Restaurant by the Civil Rights Enforcement Unit of the U. S. Attorney’s Office, led by Assistant United States Attorney Gary Alan Moore. Following investigation, negotiation, and architectural design, the parties were able to agree on required changes that would be made to the facility including: adding accessible parking for persons with disabilities, adding an appropriate ramp to a chair lift which was installed and which would be used for persons who have trouble walking, who use wheelchairs, walkers and the like. Because neither of the restrooms at the restaurant was accessible, the management of Cotton’s remedied that violation by building a new accessible restroom for females and by converting the previous men and women’s restrooms into a single, accessible restroom for males. In addition, some dining tables of a height that will allow those who use a wheelchair have been added and a required number will also have gulf view-locations. Policies have been adopted by the owners and staff which require providing dining assistance to persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and deaf-blind, blind, and people with mobility disabilities who may not be able to access the raised bar in the lounge. Service dog policies have also been adopted. Staff training is also required as part of the Consent Decree’s requirements.
As Mr. Brown continued, “Although there was not an immediate positive response, Cotton’s Restaurant owners quickly chose to do the appropriate thing to remove the barriers which prevented persons with disabilities from enjoying their restaurant. Certainly, nothing says you are welcome to a place of business like a person actually being able to enter and enjoy that place of business. It’s the law and many folks join us in saying it’s also simply great for business. We commend Cotton’s Restaurant’s owners for their decisions and their wise investment. They have shown they are good corporate neighbors. With more than 55 million persons with disabilities in our country, the restaurant has the potential for much more business as well.
“Because Cotton’s Restaurant soon cooperated and agreed to make the substantial changes required, the Department of Justice did not seek civil monetary penalties provided for in the ADA. That is a rare situation. Also, Mr. Barbier was not interested in monetary damages, to which he was entitled. He simply wanted the problem remedied for others who might want the same dining experience as persons who do not have disabilities. When he was shown photographs of the renovations taking place to make the restaurant accessible, Mr. Barbier was very pleased and said that at his age, he may not be able to visit the Gulf area again. Sadly, he passed away a few weeks ago. He was a good neighbor who certainly cared for others.
“I want to be clear on behalf of the United States, however, that if business owners or governmental entities do not cooperate with our compliance efforts on behalf of persons with disabilities, we intend to seek the full measure of relief allowed under the ADA in terms of injunctive relief to effect structural changes to make them accessible and we will seek civil monetary penalties and compensatory damages on behalf of the victims,” concluded Mr. Brown.
“In late July we celebrated the 23rd Anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” observed AUSA Moore. He continued, “Even though many buildings and facilities pre-date the 1990 statute, owners and operators of facilities and businesses and of state and local governmental services still must perform renovations or effect changes which are readily achievable to remove barriers to access to persons with disabilities. For more information, visit www.ada.gov or our office’s website at http://www.justice.gov/usao/als/civil/cre.html”.
The Civil Rights Enforcement Unit team consisted of AUSA Moore, Paralegal Regina Dickerson, Investigator Richard Hinrichs, and Independent Architectural Consultant Bill Hecker of Birmingham, AL.
Any person with a disability who believes they have been discriminated against in the Southern District of Alabama may contact our office at 63 South Royal Street, Suite 600, Mobile, AL 36602, telephone us at 251.441.5845 or file a complaint with the U. S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, Washington, DC 20530.