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Welcome to the Summer 2016 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 6, ISSUE 2 SUMMER 2016 

Title I

The ADA prohibits employers from retaliating against their employees for exercising their rights under the ADA. In Crain v. Gaston County Bd. Of Education, an elementary school principal had been demoted twice after disclosing his depression diagnosis and that he may need time off. He initially filed an EEOC complaint in 2013. He received a right to sue letter and pursued the matter in state court, but withdrew the suit in 2014. He then applied for one of the seven open principal positions but was denied being promoted to any of them despite receiving the fifth highest score during the interview process. This time, he filed a complaint with the EEOC, pursued a lawsuit in federal court, and referenced the previous complaint in the suit. The court ruled that the previous lawsuit and the later refusal to promote the employee were enough grounds to for the plaintiff properly plead a retaliation case.

However in Mazur v. New York City Department of Education, a court ruled against a teacher who received negative reviews and extra work from her employer after having taken six weeks off for medical leave. She was disciplined twice and eventually suspended without pay after two heated altercations with her supervisor. In this case, the employer had identified non-discriminatory reasons for the discipline that the teacher failed to rebut.

Title II

Local and state governments have an obligation to make their services, programs, and activities accessible. For example, in National Federation of the Blind v. Lamone, the plaintiffs alleged that they had been denied meaningful access to absentee voting in Maryland in violation of Title II of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Maryland allows any voter to vote with an absentee ballot. The hardcopy ballot must be marked by hand, signed, and returned via mail or hand-delivery to the voter's local election board. The plaintiffs argued that marking a hardcopy ballot by hand without assistance is impossible for voters with various disabilities, and that they have therefore been denied meaningful access to absentee voting. In other words, the plaintiffs cannot vote privately and independently.

Maryland had developed an online voting tool that was never implemented because of bureaucratic reasons. The plaintiffs proposed electronic voting system would allow equal access for those who wished to vote by absentee ballots. The District Court sided with the plaintiffs, and the Appellate Court affirmed holding that the plaintiff's proposal was a reasonable modification that did not fundamentally alter Maryland's absentee voting program.

What's more, these services, programs, and activities ought to be offered in the most integrated setting possible. In S.S. by S.Y. v. City of Springfield, Massachusetts, the District Court considered whether Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act , imposes obligations on public school districts with respect to the educational placement of students with disabilities that are independent of the obligations imposed by the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. In that case, S.Y., a student with a psychiatric disability, was enrolled at the Springfield Public Day School (SPDS). The defendant operates both neighborhood schools and the SPDS. Approximately 230 students in grade K through 12, all of whom have psychiatric disabilities, attend the SPDS. The services offered at the SPDS, including extracurricular and academic programs, are inferior to those offered at the neighborhood schools. The students who attend the SPDS could attend neighborhood schools if the defendant reasonably modified the programs and services it provides to include the provision of appropriate school-based behavior services within those neighborhood schools.

The plaintiff conceded that the defendant met their obligations under the IDEA. The defendant's main contention was that the ADA claim was actually a disguised IDEA claim. The court sided with the plaintiffs, stating that a special education student may agree there has been no violation of the IDEA and yet may also be able to assert a claim under the ADA because the statutes are not coextensive.

While the term "services, programs, or activities" has been interpreted broadly by most courts, other courts have differentiated between "facility access" and "services, programs, or activities." In Babcock v. State of Michigan, the plaintiff was an employee at an office complex in Detroit that housed several state offices. The plaintiff has Friedreich's Ataxia, a neuromuscular disorder that affects her ability to walk. She alleged several design features of the office complex that denied her equal access to her place of employment in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the District Court's holding and sided with the defendant. The court found that the plaintiff had not identified a public service, program, or activity from which she was excluded or denied a benefit. After reviewing the Title II regulations, the Court concluded there is a distinction between services, programs, or activities and the facilities in which they are administered. In other words, the Court held that the plaintiff's claim was barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity because facility accessibility is not, standing alone, a cognizable claim under Title II's private right of action; rather, the inquiry is tied to whether that facility's inaccessibility interferes with access to public services, programs, or activities.

Title III

Places of public accommodation cannot have eligibility criteria that tend to screen out people with disabilities. In Koester v. Young Men's Christian Association of Greater St. Louis, the plaintiff sought to enroll her son, N.K., into the defendant's summer camp program. N.K. has Down syndrome and Autism, and the YMCA requires that applicants submit an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for summer camp participation. The plaintiff objected to providing the IEP because she believed the document was highly personal and confidential. Instead she offered to engage in an interactive process by sitting down to discuss what accommodations would be reasonable for N.K.

The Court ruled in the defendant's favor and granted the motion for summary judgment. The Court reasoned that the YMCA's policy was not in place to screen out individuals with disabilities but to seek information to best accommodate them so they can participate safely in camp activities. What's more, the Court found the plaintiff's offer to engage in a discussion of N.K.'s needs with the defendant would have been insufficient, since her testimony about her son's needs contradicted other witnesses' testimony and medical information.

Private transportation providers have a duty to reasonably accommodate passengers. In Johnson v. Napa Valley Wine Train, the plaintiffs alleged violations under Title III of the ADA, when the plaintiffs' book club took a trip on the defendants' Wine Train. The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the plaintiffs never requested any reasonable modifications. The Court disagreed with the defendants, noting that the plaintiffs informed the reservation agent that some members of the book club had physical disabilities; and the agent guaranteed they would be accommodated. However, when the plaintiffs arrived to board the train, no attendants were available to assist them. Furthermore, upon exiting the train, the Neals were forced to march through all the other six train cars, were given no assistance by Wine Train staff in the process, and were instead told "to hurry up" even though they had physical disabilities and experienced physical difficulty walking through the train.

In suits concerning facility access, a plaintiff does not have to necessarily live in close proximity to the premises. Proximity to the premises is one of several factors that go to the likelihood that the plaintiff will return to the place of public accommodation. For example, in Adams v. Rooms 4U, the plaintiff alleged the defendant's hotel had a number of architectural barriers including: lack of accessible rooms, lack of accessible parking, lack of an accessible route or entrance to the pool area, lack of accessible ramps to utilize the sidewalk, excessive slopes in the parking area, and lack of an accessible entrance into the office area. The defendant argued the plaintiff could not satisfy the standing requirement of injury-in-fact because the plaintiff had not established a likelihood of future injury; since she lives in another state.

The Court ruled in the plaintiff's favor. The Court held that the plaintiff's affidavit which stated that she visited her family a few times a year and was planning to stay at the defendant's hotel; was sufficient to deny the defendant's motion to dismiss.





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