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Welcome to the Fall 2015 edition of the ADA Case Law Digest. The digest features recent additions to the ADA Case Law Database. The database is a comprehensive search tool that allows the user to find significant court cases, settlement agreements, and consent decrees that help interpret the Americans with Disabilities Act. The database and the digests are produced through the collaboration of the Great Lakes ADA Center and the Southwest ADA Center. Prepared by George Powers and Vinh Nguyen, Southwest ADA Center.

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  VOLUME 5, ISSUE 3 Fall 2015 

Title I

Accessibility issues in employment can go beyond access to the physical environment. The employer in Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County had opened up a new call center that used a software system that would not work with an employee's screen reader software. The new software system could be configured to be accessible but the county chose not to do so due to cost and instead transferred the employee to a position that did not offer full time work. Even though employers can offer an alternative accommodation to the one preferred by the employee, a jury needed to decide whether this was an appropriate one.

Leave of absence is an issue often litigated in ADA employment cases. In Wheat v. Columbus Board of Education, a teacher was terminated after her leave exceeded a two-year limitation after being injured on the job. The court determined that she was not a qualified employee because she was not cleared to work by her doctor despite her insistence that she would be able to work.

Title II

A state or local government does not violate Title II of the ADA when the private entities they regulate violate the ADA. To hold a state or local government agency culpable, a plaintiff must prove that the private entities violations were due to the agency's regulations or policies. In Ivy v. Williams, the plaintiffs brought a putative class action against the defendant Michael Williams in his official capacity as head of the Texas Education Agency (TEA). In Texas, individuals under the age of 25 cannot obtain driver's licenses unless they submit a driver education certificate to the Department of Public Safety. Driver education certificates, in turn, are only available from private driver education schools licensed by the TEA. The plaintiffs are all individuals with hearing loss who contacted several TEA licensed private driver education schools, all of which informed the plaintiffs that the schools would not accommodate them. The plaintiffs requested injunctive and declaratory relief requiring the TEA to bring driver education into compliance with the ADA. The court, however, dismissed the case and held that driver education is not a service, program, or activity of the TEA; and thus the claim was not actionable under Title II of the ADA. The court reasoned that the TEA is not accountable for the driver education schools' inaccessibility because the TEA's requirements and policies have not caused it. Another persuasive argument was the lack of a contractual or agency relationship between driver education schools and the TEA; and the court disagreed with the plaintiffs' notion that the TEA is subject to Title II because it heavily regulates the driver education schools.

In a suit alleging disability discrimination, a plaintiff has to prove that he/she is a qualified individual with a disability. In Ball v. LeBlanc, three inmates sued the Louisiana Department of Corrections and various prison officials in their official capacities. The plaintiffs asserted that the defendants' failure to provide air conditioning in a newly built prison facility violated the ADA. The plaintiffs have hypertension, diabetes, obesity, hepatitis, depression and high cholesterol; and their medical conditions are exacerbated by the high temperatures. The district court granted an injunction effectively ordering the defendants to install air conditioning throughout death row based on the prisoners' Eighth Amendment claims; but dismissed their disability claims, finding that the plaintiffs did not have a disability. On appeal, the prisoners argued that "thermoregulation" is a major life activity, citing evidence in the record showing their thermoregulatory functions are impaired, and therefore they are disabled. The appeals court, however, found no evidence that the prisoners' medical conditions have ever caused their body temperatures to rise above 98.6 F. In other words, there is no evidence that these prisoners' thermoregulatory systems are actually impaired.

Furthermore, a plaintiff may need to prove that he or she was denied a benefit that is otherwise available to the general public. In Disability Rights New Jersey v. New Jersey Department of Human Services Commissioner, the appellate court faced the question of whether residents with psychiatric disabilities of New Jersey who have been committed to state custody are entitled to judicial process before they may be forcibly medicated in non-emergency situations. The plaintiffs challenged a local procedure regulating the forcible administration of psychotropic drugs in New Jersey psychiatric hospitals under the ADA. The procedure provides that a patient with a psychiatric disability can be forcibly medicated if he/she poses a "substantial risk" that the patient will do physical harm to himself/herself, another person, or property "within the reasonably foreseeable future." After questioning the plaintiffs at oral argument, the court concluded that they were challenging the state's denial of a judicial hearing before being forcibly medicated. The court ruled against the plaintiffs, finding that this right does not exist in New Jersey for non-disabled people, which means the denial of that right to patients with a psychiatric disability is not discriminatory. All New Jersey citizens are entitled to the judicial processes attendant to civil commitment. After that point, however, and once an individual's care is entrusted to the State, there are no additional premedication judicial processes available to anyone. In other words, the court held that Disability Rights New Jersey failed to allege that a disabled person has been denied some benefit that a public entity has extended to non-disabled people.

Title III

A business owner cannot be held liable for the accessible design violations committed by a previous owner. In De La Rosa v. Lewis Foods of 42nd Street, the plaintiff alleged that a McDonald's restaurant operated by the defendant was designed and constructed in a way that did not comply with the ADA. The plaintiff's complaint pertains to alterations that were made to the restaurant in 2003. The defendant began to lease the premises in 2010 and argued that they could not be held liable for the prior violations. The court was asked to determine whether a previous owner's alteration of a property in violation of the ADA constitutes a continuing violation of the ADA that runs with the property, requiring a subsequent tenant of the property to rectify the past violation, irrespective of when it occurred and whether such a project is, at this point, "readily achievable." The court sided with the defendant, reasoning that the plain meaning of the statute and case law did not support the plaintiff's position.

Title III plaintiffs may only seek injunctive relief. In Ferguson v. Jeremiah, the plaintiff claimed the defendant violated his rights under Title III of the ADA when he was denied entry into the defendant's store to purchase products or services. Mr. Ferguson contended that he was denied entry by the defendant because he had a service animal with him who is a seizure alert, mobility assistance and PTSD animal and must remain with her handler at all times. Mr. Ferguson further contended that he attempted to reenter the store without the animal but again was denied entry? and as a result he suffered undue stress and the ability to purchase service or goods. The court found the plaintiff's claim to be frivolous since he only sought money damages; and because the sole remedy for a Title III claim is injunctive relief.

A place of public accommodation may offer gluten free items at a surcharge. In Phillips v. PF Chang's China Bistro, the plaintiff alleged the defendant discriminated against patrons with celiac disease and other dietary restrictions by charging $1.00 more for some gluten free menu items than for comparable non gluten free menu items. The defendant argued that it did not target those with celiac disease because the gluten free menu and its related pricing is offered to all guests on an equal basis-anyone who wants gluten free items can order them and pay the same as anyone else who orders them. The critical question is whether the defendant is providing a different product with its gluten free meals or whether gluten free meals are in essence the same meals as their corresponding non-gluten free meals. The court sided with the defendant, reasoning that requiring PF Chang's to provide gluten free meals at the same price as regular meals is like requiring a bookstore to provide books in Braille at the same price as it charges for its non-Braille counterparts. Holding otherwise would exceed the ADA's protections which do not require provision of different goods or services, just nondiscriminatory enjoyment of those that are provided.





Other Disability Law Websites
These cases represent an excerpt of the additions to the database. If you would like to learn more about these cases and others, please visit the ADA Case Law Database at http://www.adacaselaw.org