On March 27, 2006, the Department signed a settlement agreement with National Pizza Corporation, International, Inc. (NPC) the largest franchisee of Pizza Hut restaurants in the nation. Under the agreement, 800 Pizza Hut restaurants in 25 states that are owned or operated by NCP will become more accessible to people with disabilities.
“Too often, the ease and enjoyment of restaurant dining is not a reality for individuals with disabilities,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “I commend NPC for their commitment to take the steps necessary to make its Pizza Hut restaurants accessible. These improvements will allow more Americans to participate and enjoy everyday activities with their family and friends.”
The agreement requires NPC to: 1) designate or hire a Compliance Officer who will be trained on the ADA’s accessibility requirements; 2) eliminate all barriers that can reasonably and feasibly be eliminated in facilities built before the ADA, meeting criteria set out in the agreement; and 3) bring all post-ADA facilities into compliance with the accessibility requirements set out in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. At the 180 NPC-operated outlets that are dedicated solely to delivery and carry-out, have no in-restaurant dining, and are owned by a party other than NPC, NPC will make its best efforts to work with landlords to ensure accessibility. NPC will also build all future facilities in compliance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.
To assist NPC in carrying out these obligations, on April 4, 2006, the Department conducted a full day ADA training in Memphis, Tennessee, for NPC representatives who will implement the agreement.
DEPARTMENT UNDERTAKES MAJOR INITIATIVE TO EDUCATE STATE AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES ABOUT THE ADA
The Department recently completed an initiative to help state and local law enforcement agencies understand their responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In an outreach mailing to 25,000 police departments, sheriff’s offices, highway patrols, and other state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country, Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, offered a variety of free ADA publications and videotapes developed specifically for law enforcement audiences.
“This disability rights initiative demonstrates the Department’s continuing commitment to help state and local governments including law enforcement understand and comply with the ADA,” said Assistant Attorney General Kim when announcing the initiative on May 2, 2006.
The agencies received information on how to order the videotape “Police Response to People with Disabilities.” This video addresses law enforcement situations involving people who have mobility disabilities, mental illnesses, mental retardation, epilepsy or other seizure disorders, speech disabilities, hearing disabilities, or vision disabilities. Intended for roll-call training, the video is divided into eight segments ranging from 5 1⁄2 to 10 1⁄2 minutes in length.
The agencies also received two new compliance assistance publications a brochure for officers and a model policy on how to communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Failure to provide effective communication is the most frequent complaint the Department receives against law enforcement under the ADA. The mailing explained how to obtain additional copies of these two publications, as well as other materials, from the ADA Website or the ADA Information Line.
In addition, a fully accessible streaming video version of “Police Response to People with Disabilities” is avalable for viewing on the ADA Website, giving web users immediate access to the video. In particular, public safety officers whose vehicles are equipped with Internet access can quickly review the relevant segment for guidance when interacting with a person with a disability as a witness, suspect, victim, or person in need of assistance.
For more information about this initiative, see information for law enforcement on the ADA Website (www.ada.gov).
DAY CAMP AGREES TO ADMIT CHILDREN WHO HAVE DIABETES
On April 10, 2006, the federal court in Massachusetts granted the Department’s motion to intervene in Medley v. Town Sports International, Inc., a case challenging a summer day camp’s denial of admission to a child with type-1 diabetes, and entered a joint consent order filed by the parties on March 20. The camp had denied the parent’s request that camp staff supervise their daughter while she tested her blood glucose level using a small automated gauge and while she keyed into her electronic insulin pump the number of carbohydrates marked on each item of food provided by her parents for lunch and snacks. The consent order requires the camp to follow a list of specific practices to accommodate children with diabetes and also places obligations on the children’s parents to take certain steps to assist the camp in their responsibilities. The order also calls for compensatory damages ($25,000) and civil penalties ($5,000).
DENTAL OFFICE WILL PROVIDE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS WHEN NEEDED
On April 17, 2005, the Department entered a settlement agreement with Modern Dental Professional, Indiana, P.C., d/b/a Monarch Dental Associates (Modern), resolving a complaint filed by a woman on behalf of her husband who is deaf. The complaint alleged that the wife requested a sign language interpreter when she called Modern to schedule a dental appointment for her husband, who needed complex and extensive dental services. Modern refused to provide an interpreter. In the agreement, Modern agreed to: 1) adopt a new Effective Communication Policy and an Effective Communication Assessment Form; 2) post a sign in all of its 10 dental offices informing patients that Modern will provide qualified sign language interpreters when necessary for effective communication; and 3) provide mandatory training to all of its employees on the ADA and its new Effective Communication Policy.
MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES AGREES TO PROVIDE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS AS NEEDED
On April 12, 2006, the Department entered into a settlement agreement with the Michigan Department of Human Services (MDHS) resolving two complaints filed by deaf parents who alleged that MDHS had refused to provide them with interpreters when they were interviewed by MDHS case workers during child abuse and neglect investigations involving their children. MDHS agreed to: 1) adopt a new Effective Communication Policy; 2) require case workers to indicate on a revised intake form if a parent has a disability and requires an interpreter for effective communication; 3) issue a public notice regarding Title II’s applicability to MDHS; 4) update its hotline numbers, its website, and other pertinent literature to include a TTY number and the Michigan Relay number; and 5) train its 150 managers and 9,000 employees annually on the ADA and its requirement to provide interpreters when necessary for effective communication.
THREE FLORIDA GAS STATIONS WILL IMPROVE ACCESSIBILITY FOR CUSTOMERS WITH DISABILITIES
On March 22, 2006, the Department entered an agreement with Automated Petroleum and Energy Company, Inc., the owner and operator of three Florida gas stations with convenience stores -- the Ocala Chevron Station, the Inverness Chevron Station, and the Dade City CITCO Station. The complaint alleged that the company had failed to remove numerous architectural barriers that prevented or restricted access to the stations by individuals with disabilities, including people who use wheelchairs and people with visual impairments. The company agreed to a variety of steps to remove the barriers, including adding van-accessible parking spaces; reconfiguring entrances; rearranging furniture to provide accessible aisles; and providing accessible restrooms by widening doorways, adjusting the height of lavatories and dispensers, and installing grab bars and accessible hardware.
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL HOSTS BUSINESS AND DISABILITY LEADERS IN CHICAGO
On April 27, 2006, Assistant Attorney General Kim hosted an ADA Business Connection meeting with 48 leaders of Chicago business and disability organizations. The meeting, co-hosted by Rick Waddell, President and COO, Northern Trust Corporation, and Marca Bristo, President and CEO, Access Living, focused on the many benefits of accessibility for both businesses and customers with disabilities. The featured speaker, Don Thompson, Executive Vice President and COO, McDonald’s USA, presented a persuasive case for developing a corporate culture and resulting business strategies that always include customers and employees with disabilities. Discussion centered around accessibility issues in Chicago’s retail, hospitality, and cultural organizations as well as the city’s resources to affect favorable change for people with disabilities and businesses.
On March 15, 2006, the Department entered a consent decree with The Kaufman Organization, a New York property management company, resolving an allegation of discrimination in commercial leasing. The Department alleged that the landlord had refused to lease available space in a building to Sinergia, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving low-income individuals with disabilities and their families, because Sinergia planned to use the space to run a day habilitation program for adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities. Sinergia’s habilitation program assists in the development of social, recreational, vocational, and employment skills.
According to the complaint, after Sinergia expressed its interest in leasing available space on the second floor of a 34th Street building, and after Kaufman sent Sinergia a draft of a lease for that space, an existing tenant in the building objected to Sinergia’s tenancy because of the use Sinergia intended to make of the space. The complaint alleges that, shortly after being notified of the existing tenant’s objection, Kaufman informed Sinergia that it would lease the space only if Sinergia agreed to use the space exclusively for its administrative offices and not use any part of the space to operate its day habilitation program. Sinergia was forced to seek alternative space elsewhere and ultimately accepted less desirable space in another building.
Under the consent decree, Kaufman agreed to pay $175,000 in compensatory damages to Sinergia.
FLORIDA TAXI COMPANY AGREES TO TRANSPORT PASSENGERS WITH SERVICE ANIMALS
On March 27, 2006, the Department signed an agreement with City Cab Company of Crestview, Florida, resolving a complaint alleging that the company had denied taxi service to a blind passenger because the passenger was accompanied by a service animal. City Cab agreed to adopt a policy requiring all drivers to transport individuals accompanied by service animals and to provide the complainant with complimentary taxi services for a period of one year.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Chung Becker discussed the need for accessible multi-family housing, pointing out that more than 50 million Americans, or 18 percent of our population, live with some form of disability. She emphasized that although the Civil Rights Division has obtained great results 12,000 housing units in 17 states are to be made accessible to persons with disabilities as a result of settlements in fiscal year 2005 alone lawsuits cannot and should not be the only approach to Fair Housing Act enforcement. Achieving compliance at the design and planning stages is a more timely and cost effective means of ensuring that the housing needs of persons with disabilities are met.
For more information and to see photos from the forum, go to www.usdoj.gov/fairhousing. The next forum will be held in another major city in the fall of 2006. The previous forum was held in Dallas in November 2005.
HOUSING AUTHORITY AND OTHERS TO PAY $125,000 TO SETTLE DISABILITY LAWSUIT
On April 4, 2006, the settlement of the Department’s disability-discrimination lawsuit against the owners and managers of the Westminster Square Apartments, in San Antonio, Texas, was approved by the federal court. The Department had alleged that the defendants the Housing Authority of the City of San Antonio, the San Antonio Housing Facility Corporation, Pat Matherly, and the Pilgrim Allena Housing Development Corporation Occupancy violated the Fair Housing Act when they refused repeated requests by Antonio and Josefina Maldonado to transfer to a first floor apartment. Antonio Maldonado, a double leg amputee who uses a wheelchair, and his wife Josefina Maldonado, who is also disabled, asked on several occasions to move from their third floor unit to a first floor unit so that they would not be dependent on the elevators and would not have to travel as far to get to their apartment. The complaint alleged that the defendants denied the requests despite the availability of two apartments on the first floor.
The settlement requires the defendants to transfer the Maldonados to a first floor apartment, to pay $125,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to the Maldonados and the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio, a fair housing organization that assisted them, to implement a comprehensive reasonable accommodation policy, to attend fair housing training, and to comply with other injunctive relief.
DEPARTMENT SUES DEVELOPERS, ARCHITECTS, AND ENGINEERS OF PHILADELPHIA-AREA APARTMENTS
Specifically, the Department alleges that the public and common use areas and rental offices are not readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities; doors in the ground floor units are not wide enough to allow passage for a person who uses a wheelchair; accessible routes within covered units are not provided; bathroom walls lack reinforcement for the later installation of grab bars; bathrooms and kitchens are not wide enough to permit use of a wheelchair; and environmental controls and outlets are not in accessible locations. The suit seeks injunctive relief, monetary damages for those harmed by the lack of accessibility, and civil penalties.
The defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that, in seeking a reasonable accommodation, Unity House had not complied with the procedural requirements of state zoning law. In denying the motion, the court agreed with the Department that even assuming this to be true, the Department could still prevail under an intentional discrimination theory, and whether Unity House complied with the state law involves disputed issues of fact. The order is posted at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/housing/documents/elginorderdenied1.pdf.
On May 2, 2006, the Department announced a settlement with the State of California regarding conditions at four state hospitals serving individuals with mental disabilities from around the state. The four hospitals Metropolitan State Hospital in Los Angeles, Napa State Hospital in Napa, Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, and Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo provide inpatient psychiatric care to nearly five thousand people committed to the hospitals.
The extensive reforms required by the five-year agreement will ensure that individuals in the hospitals are adequately protected from harm and are provided adequate services to support their recovery and mental health. The agreement was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California and will be supervised by a court-appointed monitor.
“Individuals in the care of the State are entitled to be safe and provided with adequate services to promote their mental health and rehabilitation,” said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We applaud the leadership of state officials in acting promptly to remedy the problems and implement the reforms embodied in the agreement.”
“A mental health patient in many ways is more vulnerable than other citizens, and therefore particularly needs to be protected from undue harm,” said United States Attorney Debra Wong Yang. “The settlement will lead these well-known and often-used hospitals to enact sweeping changes that will improve the lives of hundreds of patients.”
The Department’s four-year investigation under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act revealed significant civil rights violations at each of the hospitals. The Department found a pattern and practice of preventable suicides and serious, life threatening assaults on residents by staff and other residents. Care provided at the hospitals departed substantially from generally accepted professional standards, and individuals were not served in the most integrated settings appropriate to their needs and the requirements of court-ordered confinements, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The State has agreed to address and correct all of the violations identified by the Department.
The Department has successfully resolved similar investigations of other mental health facilities in North Carolina, New York, Hawaii, and Tennessee. The California settlement is available online.
The ADA Mediation Program is a Department-sponsored initiative intended to resolve ADA complaints in an efficient manner. Mediation cases are initiated upon referral by the Department when both the complainant and the respondent agree to participate. The program utilizes professional mediators who are trained in the legal requirements of the ADA and has proven effective in resolving complaints at less cost and in less time than traditional investigations or litigation. Over 75% of all complaints mediated have been settled successfully.
On March 29-31, Division staff made three presentations at “The Road Ahead,” the annual conference of the Association for Higher Education and Disability Virginia, held in Roanoke, Virginia. Staff co-presented at a pre-conference session, providing an overview of the requirements of the ADA and section 504 in higher education, and participated in two break-out sessions a case law update and an overview of the Justice Department’s compliance reviews.
June 5, 2006