TestMasters, one of the largest nationwide providers of preparatory courses for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and other secondary and post-secondary admissions tests, has agreed to provide effective communication for people with disabilities. On June 7, 2006, the Department filed a complaint and proposed consent order in federal court in Los Angeles alleging that TestMasters had violated the ADA by refusing to provide auxiliary aids and services to a deaf student who registered for its LSAT review course. The consent order was signed and entered on June 21, 2006.
PENNSYLVANIA TOWN REVISES ITS RETURN-TO-WORK POLICY
On June 29, 2006, the federal court in Philadelphia signed a consent decree resolving the Department’s lawsuit against Bern Township, Pennsylvania, alleging that the Township had violated title I of the ADA by refusing to allow an employee to return to work following a stroke and by refusing to discuss or consider a reasonable accommodation for him. This case involved Marvin Gilmer, a 27-year veteran of the Township’s road crew. After a stroke that substantially limited his ability to perform manual tasks, care for himself, talk, and work, Mr. Gilmer underwent therapy and eventually regained most of his strength and ability to talk. However, citing a provision in its collective bargaining agreement, the Township refused to allow him to return to work without a full release from his physician. Eventually, the Township terminated Mr. Gilmer rather than provide a reasonable accommodation that would have enabled him to return to work.
DEPARTMENT REITERATES ITS POSITION ON LINE-OF-SIGHT OVER STANDING SPECTATORS
YOUTH BASEBALL LEAGUE ALLOWS PARENT TO PROVIDE SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETING FOR DEAF SON
The Department has been investigating allegations that PONY Baseball, Inc. (PONY), a youth baseball league in Hilo, Hawaii, has violated the ADA by refusing to allow the father of a player who is deaf to provide sign language interpreting for his son during tournament games. PONY’s rules limit the number of coaches in the game and the league has ruled that the father, who is only providing sign language interpreting, must be included in the total number of coaches for his son’s team.
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.
CHAIN OF MINNESOTA GAS STATIONS AND CONVENIENCE STORES WILL ELIMINATE ACCESS BARRIERS
The Twin Cities Avanti Stores, LLC, of Minneapolis, doing business as Oasis Markets, entered into a settlement agreement with the Department on July 10, 2006, resolving a complaint filed by a local independent living center charging that Oasis Market convenience stores and gas stations were not accessible to people with disabilities, including people who use wheelchairs.
LAW OFFICE WILL PROVIDE SIGN
The law office of Cohen and Jaffe, LLC, in New York entered into a settlement agreement with the Department on July 3, 2006, resolving a complaint that the firm had failed to provide a qualified sign language interpreter for a client who is deaf as she prepared for deposition testimony and for other settlement and legal discussions. The firm used the complainant’s mother, who is not a qualified interpreter, to interpret for her daughter, in violation of the requirements of the ADA.
TWO RESTAURANTS AGREE TO WELCOME SERVICE ANIMALS
The owner of the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurant in Dayton, Tennessee, signed a settlement agreement with the Department on May 11, 2006, resolving a complaint by a woman who is legally blind who alleged that KFC staff had told her repeatedly to leave the premises because she was accompanied by a service animal. KFC agreed to adopt, maintain, and enforce a policy on the treatment of customers using service animals, to provide a copy of the policy to all employees, to provide training on the policy to all current employees, and to incorporate this training into its regular training programs and repeat it for new KFC employees. In addition, KFC posted a sign on its entry door that reads “KFC Always Welcomes Customers with Service Animals” and provided the complainant $5,000 in compensation.
WILL BE MADE ACCESSIBLE
The City of Milwaukee, the County of Milwaukee, and a Milwaukee Business Improvement District (BID) entered into a settlement agreement with the Department on July 11, 2006, resolving access concerns at the Milwaukee Riverwalk, a public walkway along the Milwaukee River which was developed by the City of Milwaukee and local property owners, acting through the BID.
THREE HOSPITALS WILL
COMMUNICATION FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE DEAF OR HARD OF HEARING
Laurel Regional Hospital in Laurel, Maryland, signed a consent decree on July 14, 2006, with the Department and private plaintiffs resolving a case involving seven people who alleged that the hospital had failed to provide them with appropriate auxiliary aids or services to ensure effective communication with them in the emergency department or during their hospitalizations. This case is different from other hospital cases the Department has participated in previously; in this case, the hospital already had the capability of providing sign language interpreters through a video interpreting service, but when the individuals asked for interpreting services, the hospital either used those services ineffectively or used ineffective or inappropriate alternatives such as paper and pen, lipreading, gesturing, or family members or companions to communicate. The hospital has now installed an enhanced video interpreting system that meets performance standards set forth in the decree.
The South Florida Baptist Hospital in Plant City, Florida, signed an agreement on May 5, 2006, resolving two complaints. One involved a man who alleged that the hospital failed to provide a sign language interpreter prior to his surgery or for post-surgical wound care instructions. The second involved the daughter of the patient who alleged that she was forced into the role of sign language interpreter to facilitate communication between her father and the Hospital’s medical personnel. The hospital has agreed to establish a program to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreters, when needed and to provide visual alarms, captioning and decoders for televisions, and TTYs in patient rooms and all public areas of the hospital.
The McLeod Regional Medical Center in Florence, South Carolina, signed an agreement on July 10, 2006, resolving three complaints against the hospital for failing to secure qualified interpreters when necessary to ensure effective communication with patients who use sign language for communication.
JUVENILE JUSTICE FACILITIES IN 7 STATES WILL PROVIDE
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION FOR YOUTH WHO ARE DEAF
OR HARD OF HEARING
On July 11, 2006, the Department filed a case in federal court in Maryland against Youth Services International (YSI) for failing to provide the auxiliary aids and services needed for effective communication for youth who are deaf or hard of hearing in its facilities. YSI operates juvenile justice facilities and programs in Florida, Georgia, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Iowa, and Minnesota.
In June 2006, the Department delivered $113,250 in checks from a housing developer to 12 present and past residents with disabilities of two apartment complexes in suburbs outside Reno, Nevada, as compensation for the inaccessibility they encountered while living there. The payments, ranging from $2,500 to $23,500, are part of the relief the Department obtained in a design and construction lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act that was resolved by a consent order last year, Silver State Fair Housing Council and United States of America v. ERGS, Inc., et al., (July 12, 2005).
FORMER OWNER AND MANAGER OF APARTMENT BUILDING MUST PAY $15,000 FOR REFUSING TO RENT TO A PROSPECTIVE TENANT WHO USES A WHEELCHAIR
On June 20, 2006, an Illinois jury ordered the former owner and manager of an apartment building in Marion, Illinois, to pay $15,000 to Deborah Norton Ally, who was told she could not rent an apartment because she used a wheelchair. The jury awarded $5,000 in compensatory damages, $3,000 in punitive damages against the former manager, and $7,000 in punitive damages against the former owner.
OWNERS AND MANAGERS OF MICHIGAN APARTMENT COMPLEX SUED FOR RETALIATION AGAINST DISABLED TENANT
On May 8, 2006, the Department filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of the Fairway Trails Apartments, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, alleging that the defendants retaliated against a disabled tenant who had requested a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act. The complaint alleges that the defendants sent the tenant a letter stating that his lease would not be renewed two days after a state court judge ruled in an eviction proceeding that the defendants had to accommodate his disability by allowing him to pay his rent the third week of every month. The tenant received a Social Security Disability check on the third Wednesday of the month. The case was referred to the Justice Department after the Department of Housing and Urban Development received a complaint, conducted an investigation, and issued a charge of discrimination.
DEPARTMENT SUES FLORIDA COUNTY FOR REFUSING TO ALLOW THE OPERATION OF SIX HOMES FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS AND A HISTORY OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE
On June 30, 2006, the Department filed a federal lawsuit alleging disability discrimination by the County of Sarasota, Florida. The Department’s complaint alleges that the county refused to allow Renaissance Manor, Inc., to operate six homes for individuals with mental illness and a history of substance abuse, although the homes at issue are permitted to operate as a matter of right under the county’s zoning code. The Department contends that the homes, which are intended to provide a supportive environment for residents, are otherwise similar to other houses in the county inhabited by residents sharing living space and common facilities. The complaint also alleges that the county retaliated against Renaissance Manor by refusing to release grant funds it had previously awarded to it.
The State of Vermont has reached a settlement agreement with the Department regarding civil rights violations in Vermont State Hospital, a hospital for people with mental health problems, in Waterbury, Vermont. The four year agreement, filed in federal court in Vermont, requires the State to implement reforms to ensure that patients in the facility are adequately protected from harm and provided adequate services including mental health care. The agreement will be supervised by jointly-agreed upon monitors. Under the terms of the agreement, the State will address and correct all of the violations identified by the Department, including the hospital’s failure to protect patients from suicide hazards and undue restraint, failure to provide adequate psychological and psychiatric services, and failure to ensure adequate discharge planning and placement in the most appropriate, integrated setting.
In this issue, we focus on complaints against restaurants that have been successfully mediated.
In California, a service animal user complained that he was refused service at the same fast-food restaurant on two separate occasions. The restaurant agreed to expand its ADA compliance policy by developing a comprehensive section on serving people who use service animals. It also agreed to provide ongoing training for employees and to have regular visits from unidentified shoppers to verify compliance. The restaurant also agreed to pay the complainant $15,000 in compensation and attorney’s fees.
A person with a mobility impairment complained that a Pennsylvania pizzeria was inaccessible because of two steps at the entrance. The parties agreed that, because of the location of the steps and city sidewalk, there was not enough room to install a permanent ramp. As an alternative, the restaurant owner obtained a portable ramp, installed a doorbell, and posted a sign instructing customers to ring the bell to alert staff, who would immediately bring the ramp to the entrance.
In Utah, an individual whose child has a mobility impairment complained that a restaurant did not have an accessible entrance. The parties initially agreed that the restaurant would create a new accessible entrance at the side of the building, but the town refused to issue building permits because it would have encroached on the narrow drive-through service lane. The parties then agreed that the restaurant would obtain a portable ramp, install a doorbell with appropriate signage at the entrance, and train its staff on where the ramp would be stored as well as how to use the ramp.
A person with a mobility disability complained that a Pennsylvania restaurant did not have an accessible entrance. Because a long ramp was required, the parties agreed to enlist an architect to draw up plans and apply for a zoning variance. The variance was granted, and the compliant ramp was completed.
In Missouri, a wheelchair user complained that a restaurant’s entrance had a steep, narrow concrete delivery ramp with no directional signage identifying it as the accessible entrance. The restaurant installed a new ramp at its main entrance, restriped the parking lot to provide accessible parking, and installed appropriate signage.
In Tennessee, a disability rights organization complained that one entrance at a fast food restaurant was inaccessible and that the second, an accessible entrance, was locked after dark. The complainants also alleged that there was no signage directing customers with disabilities to the accessible entrance. The restaurant owner agreed to install a ramp and reconstruct the doorway to provide access at the inaccessible entrance and added accessible parking spaces and appropriate signage. In addition to resolving the original complaint, the owner also modified the entrance to the restrooms and installed grab bars to the otherwise accessible toilet stalls, removed barriers to provide an accessible path of travel to the service counter and dining area, added wheelchair accessible tables, and adjusted the height of the pay telephone.
In South Carolina, a disability advocacy group complained that a restaurant housed in a historic building was inaccessible. The restaurant renovated both restrooms and installed an accessible ramp so that all sections of the restaurant are now accessible.
Relatives of a wheelchair user complained that a North Carolina restaurant lacked accessible restroom facilities. With technical assistance from a local independent living center and the local building inspector, the restaurant constructed a unisex accessible restroom, installed one van-accessible and two standard accessible parking spaces, and created an accessible path of travel from the parking area to the restaurant entrance.
A person with a heart condition complained that a Rhode Island restaurant’s accessible restroom was not available to people with disabilities because it was routinely occupied by staff using it as a changing room. The restaurant agreed to issue a written policy statement to the staff prohibiting employees from using accessible restrooms as changing rooms except in an emergency.
In Wisconsin, a couple complained that they were not allowed to bring food into a restaurant for their young son who has severe food allergies. The owner of the restaurant, who also owns two others, agreed to allow persons to bring outside food into the restaurants if needed due to a disability. The restaurants trained their employees and posted the policy on their websites.
In California, persons with mobility impairments complained that a restaurant located on a pier provided only valet parking, and refused to allow individuals to self-park vehicles that have been adapted with hand controls or other modifications. The restaurant informed all valet employees that it would allow customers with disabilities to self-park within the valet parking area if the customer has a modified vehicle or disability that precludes valet staff from driving the vehicle. The restaurant agreed to provide a van-accessible parking space near the restaurant within the valet parking area and an accessible route to the entrance.
In Missouri, a wheelchair user complained that a restaurant’s nonsmoking section was inaccessible. Because there was not enough space to install a permanent ramp, the owners agreed to purchase and use a portable ramp.
A person with a mobility disability compla ined that a North Dakota restaurant did not provide accessible seating in the nonsmoking location. The restaurant agreed to create an accessible nonsmoking area, implement a reservat ion system for accessible tables, and provide staff training on the ADA.
In California, a couple with mobility impairments complained that a nation al chain restaurant refused their request to sit in cha irs at the end of a booth, because their disabilities made it difficult to ente r and exit booth seating. They also complained that the manager was rude to them. The restaurant agreed to add accessible, free-standing tables and chairs in addition to booth seating and disciplined the m anager involved in the incident. The restaurant also wrote a letter of apology to the couple, offered them a complimentary meal whe n the new seating had been installed, and paid them $400.
A wheelchair user complained that a New Mexico restaurant’s restrooms were inaccessible. The owner of the restaurant modified the restrooms, including reconfiguring toilet stall partitions to allow clear space for out-swinging stall doors, repositioning fixtures to provide clear floor space, repositioning dispensers to comply with reach range requirements, insulating exposed lavatory pipes, and installing accessible door hardware on toilet stall doors. The restaurant owner also installed two freestanding tables to accommodate wheelchair users in both the smoking and non-smoking sections of the restaurant.
On May 22 and the 23, Division staff answered questions and disseminated ADA information to an estimated 700 attendees at the 2006 Annual Conference on Independent Living, sponsored by the National Council on Independent Living at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, DC.
October 09, 2008