Share us on: By Jeff Zalesin
Law360, New York (August 6, 2015, 4:02 PM ET) — The NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers and the company behind their stadium told a California federal judge Wednesday that they didn’t discriminate against a fan who accused them of thwarting his access to wheelchair-accessible seating.
Mark Willits, who says he needs to use a wheelchair due to a disability, was not treated like “a second class citizen” under a ticketing policy that allegedly prevented him from buying accessible seats before game day, according to an answer filed by the Clippers and LA Arena Company LLC, the corporate parent of the Staples Center.
The defendants also told U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright, II that they have a broad range of defenses at their disposal. They suggested that Willits lacks standing, waited too long to bring some of his claims and is demanding changes to the Staples Center that the defendants can’t be expected to deliver.
“Some or all of the barrier removal proposed by plaintiff are not readily achievable or easily accomplishable, or are technically infeasible, because, among other reasons, defendants do not own, lease, operate, or control all of the property involved,” the defendants told U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright, II.
Besides, the defendants said, removing the alleged barriers would be too expensive or difficult to qualify as a “readily achievable” task as defined by the ADA.
The Clippers and LA Arena Company also said they never engaged in an act of “intentional discrimination” against Willits. They added that Willits failed to mitigate any harm he might have experienced by requesting a “reasonable modification” to team or stadium policy.
“Plaintiff also had available remedies and complaint procedures available to him through defendants, and through other administrative means, that did not require filing a lawsuit and incurring legal fees,” they said. “Plaintiff chose not to use those available remedies or provide any other notice or opportunity to cure to defendants.”
The defendants also said any actions they took that affected Willits were connected to “legitimate business interests” and couldn’t give rise to ADA liability.
In response to Willits’ statement that he needs a wheelchair, the defendants said they didn’t yet have enough information to know whether that assessment is true.
In his April complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Willits alleged that he has tried to reserve wheelchair-accessible seats for Clippers games, but was told that he would instead have to buy ordinary tickets and show up early at the stadium to exchange them for accessible seats. He said that he attended six games in 2012 after enduring the hassle required to get acceptable seating.
Since then, Willits has allegedly contacted the Clippers repeatedly about reserving accessible seats, always without success.
“Plaintiff would like to return to the facility on a regular basis to attend L.A. Clippers games, but plaintiff is deterred from doing so because of the discriminatory conduct of defendants as set forth in this complaint,” he said. “Plaintiff was and is irritated, frustrated and extremely upset due to defendants’ insensitive and illegal conduct.”
Willits initially named ticket sales giant Live Nation Entertainment Inc. as a defendant but stipulated to drop Live Nation in June. In a joint report filed in July, the remaining defendants said they were “currently investigating whether Defendant Live Nation Entertainment Group needs to be brought back into this lawsuit” and reserved the right to lodge a cross-complaint.
Both sides also said they were open to negotiating a possible settlement.
An attorney for the defendants declined to comment on Thursday. An attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Willits is represented by Ray Ballister Jr., Mark Potter, Phyl Grace and Dennis Price of the Center for Disability Access.
The Clippers and LA Arena Company are represented by Melissa Daugherty, Timothy Windham and Kerri Lutfey of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard and Smith LLP.
The case is Willits v. LA Arena Company LLC et al., case number 2:15-cv-02415, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
— Editing by Ben Guilfoy.
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.