The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990 in an effort to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. Unfortunately, even 24 years after this bill was signed into law, some businesses still fail to live up to its basic requirements. If you or a loved one has a disability and you feel discriminated against by a business or property owner, you can file a claim under Title III of the ADA.
Title III was specifically developed to protect the rights of people with disabilities in commercial facilities or public accommodations. If you believe that your rights were violated under this title, follow the basic steps below to file a claim. Remember, this is just an overview—for more in-depth information, you should contact a personal injury attorney who has helped plaintiffs with ADA claims before.
Determining If You Have a Case
It is important to understand a few definitions in order to determine if you have a valid case against a business or property owner. First, you need to look at what is considered a public accommodation under Title III of the ADA. Public accommodations include:
- Service establishments: restaurants and hotels
- Stores: retail stores and shopping centers
- Health care facilities: pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and hospitals
- Certain education and child care facilities: private schools, day care centers
- Entertainment centers: theaters, parks, zoos, museums, bowling alleys, amusement parks, and some privately-owned casinos
- Other: dry cleaners, Laundromats, libraries, and health spas
Although most people primarily think of hotels and restaurants when they think of “public accommodations,” you can see that the definition extends far beyond this, and the ADA covers a number of privately-owned facilities that are open to the public.
Next, you need to determine if the layout of the building or the behavior of a property owner or employee qualifies as discrimination. Here are a few common issues that could be an ADA violation:
Inaccessible design. A business is violating the ADA if they fail to make an area of their facility that serves a primary function accessible to people with disabilities. For example, a restaurant would be in violation if their only bathroom was up a flight of stairs and was therefore wheelchair-inaccessible.
Failure to modify policies to accommodate someone with a disability. This would include, for instance, a day care center refusing to bend their one-snack-per-day policy to accommodate a child with diabetes, who might need an extra snack to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. This could also include facilities that refuse to allow service animals inside on the basis that they have a “No Pets” policy.
Making ticket purchase difficult or impossible for someone with a disability. Ticket sellers for events like concerts, plays, and sporting events are required by law to provide accessible seating options for people who may be wheelchair-bound. They are violating the ADA when they fail to provide tickets for accessible seats in the same way that they provide all other tickets; for example, if tickets for standard seats are available online, tickets for accessible seats also need to be readily available online, and any discounts or promotions applicable to standard seats still need to apply to accessible seats.
Filing a Claim
There are two primary routes to addressing an ADA violation. First, you can choose to write a letter (or have someone write a letter for you) to the U.S. Department of Justice, including your contact information, the name of the party who you believe discriminated against you, and a detailed description of the acts of discrimination. You can mail your complaint to:
US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights – NYAVE
Washington, DC 20530
The Civil Rights division of the Justice department will investigate your complaint and determine whether or not to begin litigation based on the evidence.
You also have the option of filing a claim in US District Court. If you pursue this route, it is best to consult with an attorney first. Title III is complex, and there are some exemptions that may limit a facility’s liability (especially a small business that may not have the resources to modify its structure). By meeting with an experienced lawyer, you can determine if you have a strong case and, if you do, how best to pursue it.
Don’t let a public facility get away with discriminating against you or a loved one with a disability; the ADA was created to guarantee equal rights to people with disabilities, and when public facilities fail to reasonably accommodate certain people, the facility owner needs to be held responsible.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of The Law Office of Andrew Winston. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”-an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state-and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”