July 26, 2015 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) is the most comprehensive civil rights statute for people with disabilities, guaranteeing equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications.
With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities. Potter Handy is proud to play a critical role in enforcing the ADA, pursuing equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, integration and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. Some of our enforcement efforts from the past are highlighted below.
A bulk of our work is in the area of public accommodations. We believe that every individual has the right to participate fully in his or her community, and the recreational, social and educational events offered there.
For the attorneys who work at the Center for Disability Access, it is a reminder that when we prosecute ADA cases, we are carrying a torch that only exists through tremendous effort and sacrifice by those who went before. It is both gratifying and humbling to look back at the last two decades and to realize that the Center for Disability Access has represented thousands of clients and prosecuted thousands of cases. We have more than 150 cases published in either the National Reporters and/or by Westlaw that are used as authority and precedence by courts and counsel across the country.
Quite a number of those cases have been tremendously valuable in shaping and strengthening the ADA to the benefit of countless persons with disabilities. For example:
- In the case Botosan v. Paul McNally Realty, 216 F.3d 827 (9th Cir. 2000), we secured a ruling that firmly establishes that landlords must be held responsible for the accessibility and safety of their property and cannot simply shift the responsibility to small business owners. According to Westlaw, more than 2000 authorities (judges, attorneys, practice manuals, etc.) have cited to this case since it was published.
- In Pickern v. Holiday Quality Foods Inc., 293 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 2002), we secured a ruling that establishes that a person with a disability suffers an actual injury if they want to access a business but are deterred from even trying to do so because they know about the access violations that exist. In other words, a person with a disability does not have to engage in the futile gesture of actually going to the business to create standing to sue. More than 1800 authorities have cited this case.
- In Fortyune v. Am. Multi-Cinema, Inc., 364 F.3d 1075 (9th Cir. 2004), we obtained a ruling that a business’ obligation to persons with disabilities transcends merely building accessible features but also requires the business to adopt policies and procedures to ensure that persons with disabilities have the maximum opportunity to actually use and enjoy its goods and services.
- In Miller v. California Speedway Corp., 536 F.3d 1020 (9th Cir. 2008), we were fortunate to get the Department of Justice to join us at the Ninth Circuit and, together, we secured a ruling that the Department of Justice’s interpretations and advisory materials must be given deference by the courts. This was tremendously valuable as the DOJ has authored numerous and expansive publications, booklets, letters, and other technical assistance materials that greatly improve and clarify obligations under the ADA. This ruling held the Speedway had to provide clear lines of sight from the accessible seating over standing spectators.
- In Lockett v. Catalina Channel Exp., Inc., 496 F.3d 1061 (9th Cir. 2007), we obtained a formal Ninth Circuit pronouncement that persons with disabilities cannot be segregated to certain areas of a boat or facility based on stereotypes or general concerns about safety.
- In Munson v. Del Taco, Inc., 208 P. 3d 623 (Cal. 2009), we argued before the California Supreme Court and obtained a unanimous decision that persons with disabilities do not have to prove that a business “intended” to discriminate against them before that business could be penalized. In other words, businesses are subject to being penalized for failure to comply with disability access laws even if they do not harbor any malice or ill-will towards persons with disabilities. You don’t get to discriminate with a smile. This ruling was so important that one of the founders of the Center for Disability Access was named a California Attorney of the Year by California Lawyer Magazine and the firm has a cherished photo of the president of the California State Bar standing with Mark Potter and Russell Handy after he presented that award at the award ceremony.
- In Fortyune v. City of Lomita, 766 F.3d 1098 (9th Cir. 2014), the firm secured a truly precedent setting decision whereby the Ninth Circuit held that governmental entities, such as cities, counties and so forth, must provide accessible facilities such as accessible on-street public parking even where there is no express code provision outlining how to do that. The City of Lomita was joined by the League of California Cities in arguing that this was unfair. But the Center for Disability Access defended that ruling, convincing the United States Supreme Court to deny certiorari and to let the decision stand. Cities must provide accessible facilities even where there are no express regulations governing the details. This actually gives Cities great flexibility in how to carry out this important obligation . . but simply doing nothing is no longer an option.
These are just a representative handful of the cases that the Center for Disability Access has handled and the type of work it has been doing for decades. And the firm will continue to advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities, and will continue a high level of professional litigation to help educate judges, mediators, governments, and businesses about the breadth and importance of the ADA.
We successfully sued Greyhound Lines Inc., challenging their failure to ensure that individuals with mobility impairments who use wheelchairs, scooters or similar mobility devices are able to make reservations in a manner that is materially equivalent to people without disabilities.
We also successfully sued a Bay Area taxi company for assessing an unlawful surcharge on individuals requiring accessible vehicles. This taxi company also had an inaccessible online reservation system and discriminatory “advanced notice” requirement only applicable to wheelchair users that was remedied through our advocacy.
State and Local Government Services
Through a precedent-setting case against the City of Lomita, we established that the lack of a specific regulation regarding on-street parking cannot eliminate a City’s general statutory obligation to provide people with disabilities access to its on-street parking facilities.
We also successfully challenged the San Francisco Superior Court’s policy of denying Communication Access Real-time Translation (“CART”) services to court spectators with disabilities.
Finally, students with disabilities returning to a number of high schools in southern California this fall will benefit from accessible parking, accessible restroom facilities and accessible stadiums due to our advocacy.
Sadly, civil rights laws do not magically create change. Even the most comprehensive and thoughtfully drafted statutes need to be enforced to have any real impact. So although we happily celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA, our celebrations are tempered by the fact that there is much left to do. If you experience discrimination in violation of the ADA, speak up and join us in making the dream of the ADA a reality.
If you are a person with a disability and encounter barriers to access, whether policy based or architectural in nature, please do not hesitate to consider your role as an advocate. Your decision to challenge unfair and discriminatory practices benefits numerous people that you will never meet. You have an effective and willing partner in this endeavor. The Center for Disability Access has been litigating these cases for two full decades. Whether it be consultation or representation, we represent our clients for free. Please don’t hesitate to call the Center to explore or discuss any issues that you have encountered.