Disability Rights Project

Matthew K. Handley Project Director
Deepa Goraya Staff Attorney
Ada Lin Paralegal

Disabilty Rights Staff at Cosi

Since 1992 after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Disability Rights Project has been litigating cases in the areas of equal access to public accommodations, public entities, transportation providers, and health care providers. The Project has also represented employees and applicants with disabilities who are denied equal access to employment, or denied reasonable accommodations in the workplace. More recently, the project is focusing on equal access to emerging technologies and services for blind individuals who use talking screen readers, particularly in the areas of equal access to online voting registration, web-only businesses, mobile applications, and touchscreen kiosks and tablets associated with public businesses, including medical facilities and gyms. Another area of focus is equal access to transportation services such as Uber and Lyft for wheelchair users.

Project Activities

The Committee’s Disability Rights Project has a very active docket of cases involving claims seeking equal access to transportation services, federal and local government programs, employment, websites and touchscreen kiosks. Significant legal accomplishments include:

  • Government Website Accessibility: American Council of the Blind v. General Services Administration. Representing the American Council of the Blind and a class of individual blind government contractors, the Committee, along with co-counsel Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, filed a complaint against the General Services Administration (GSA) for failing to make its website, sam.gov, accessible to blind users. This inaccessibility prevented blind federal contractors from registering or renewing their registration independently on sam.gov. On November 10, 2015, the Committee reached a landmark settlement with GSA on behalf of blind federal contractors and the American Council of the Blind.

  • DC Government Programs: Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP joined the Committee and Disability Rights Advocates in filing a class action complaint in U.S. District Court in D.C. on September 9, 2014 on behalf of United Spinal Association, the DC Center for Independent Living and three DC residents with disabilities challenging the District of Columbia’s poor emergency planning for persons with disabilities.  The lawsuit alleges that the problems that exist range from the District’s failure to publicize any information about accessible emergency shelters, failure to plan for emergency communications to persons who are deaf and blind, failure to put accessible evacuation options in place, and failure to plan for supply chain disruptions for medication and replacement durable medical equipment.

  • Public Accommodations: Equal Rights Center, et al. v. Kohl’s, et al. The law firm of Robbins, Salomon, & Patt LTD joined with the Committee to file a complaint in October 2014 in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against Kohl’s Corporation and Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc. on behalf of several individuals with disabilities and the Equal Rights Center.  Testing done by the Equal Rights Center revealed that the aisles and other features inside several Kohl’s stores nationwide were inaccessible to people using wheelchairs.  The suit alleges that Kohl’s violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and applicable state laws.

  • Transportation Services: ACB and Eric Bridges v. DC Taxicab. The law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP (Pillsbury) joined with the Committee to represent the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and Eric Bridges, a blind customer with a service dog who was attempting to hail a taxi, against four DC taxi companies: Yellow Cab, Elite Cab, Grand Cab Company, and Pleasant Taxicab. Cab drivers from all four companies, after seeing the service dog, repeatedly passed him and stopped for a sighted passenger a short distance away, thereby violating Title III of the ADA and the DC Human Rights Act. These incidents were all caught on film by WUSA9, which was filming a documentary on this issue.

  • Equal Employment Opportunity: Van Rossum v. Baltimore County. Attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, along with the Committee, represent a disabled woman who was forced to take early disability retirement because her employer, The Baltimore County Government’s Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, refused to accommodate her disability. The complainant suffers from multiple chemical toxicities, which were aggravated by her exposure to toxic mold while working in the Baltimore County Circuit Court building in Towson, MD.  The EEOC issued a letter of determination finding that the complainant was, in fact, discriminated against, but the City of Baltimore has refused to conciliate her claim.  The complaint is pending in Baltimore in the US District Court for the District of Maryland.

  • Touchscreen Kiosks: Social Security Administration, the Committee, along with Brown, Goldstein & Levy, represent the National Federation of the Blind and its members in a matter involving access to touchscreen check-in kiosks at various Social Security Administration buildings. The kiosks either have no external keyboards near them so that blind persons are not able to access them, do not operate correctly, or have no audio or brailled instructions in place to alert blind individuals on how to operate them. Users must therefore relay private information to a sighted individual who must assist them in entering the information. The Committee and counsel for the NFB have alerted SSA of this issue and met with them in the fall of 2015 to discuss the issue. Kiosks at various locations are currently being tested to determine whether the problem continues to persist.

Since 1992 after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Disability Rights Project has been litigating cases in the areas of equal access to public accommodations, public entities, transportation providers, and health care providers. The Project has also represented employees and applicants with disabilities who are denied equal access to employment, or denied reasonable accommodations in the workplace. More recently, the project is focusing on equal access to emerging technologies and services for blind individuals who use talking screen readers, particularly in the areas of equal access to online voting registration, web-only businesses, mobile applications, and touchscreen kiosks and tablets associated with public businesses, including medical facilities and gyms. Another area of focus is equal access to transportation services such as Uber and Lyft for wheelchair users.

PUBLIC SERVICES

Voting

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et. al., v. The District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, et al
Cocounsel: Hogan & Hartson LLP
Case No. 1:01-CV-1884
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement August 20, 2002

Settlements to improve access for District voters with disabilities. Under the agreements, the District was required to purchase, by the 2004 Primary Election, at least one voting machine per precinct usable by persons who are blind and those with manual disabilities. The Settlement also required the District to ensure that persons with mobility impairments were able to access polling places.

Effective Communication

Equal Rights Center, et al., v. District of Columbia 
Cocounsel: Steptoe & Johnson LLP
Case No. 1:07-CV-1838
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement June 7, 2011

Settlement requires the District of Columbia to make sign language interpreters and auxiliary aids and services available throughout District agencies for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. District agencies will provide on-site interpreters and Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) services, videophones at police stations, a pilot VRI program for police cruisers, and disability rights training to its employees.

Miller, et al., v. District of Columbia
Cocounsel: Yablonski Both & Edelman
Case No. 1:96-CV-2833
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Order/Settlement November 5, 1997

Order required the District to make substantial improvements to its emergency 911 telephone system, to render it accessible to deaf callers using telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDDs).

Parking

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. District of Columbia, et al.
Cocounsel: Morrison & Foerster LLP
Case No. 1:04-CV-529
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement July 26, 2006

Settlement required the District to install at least two accessible parking meters on each block face containing parking meters that are at an accessible height for people with disabilities. The District was also required to remove sidewalk barriers to create accessible routes to accessible parking meters, and to revise its parking placard policies.

Lottery

Equal Rights Center, et al., v. District of Columbia, et al.  
Case No. 1:10-CV-1942
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement March 23, 2011

Agreement ensures that D.C. Lottery agents adhere to federal accessibility laws and guidelines. The agreement, among other things, requires Lottery Agents to remove any barriers to accessibility within 18 months, participate in accessibility and disability rights training, and obtain accessible lottery equipment, if available.

INMATES AND DETAINEES

Minnis, et al., v. Virginia Department of Corrections
Cocounsel: Winston & Strawn LLP
Case No. 1:10-CV-96
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Settlement November 17, 2010

Agreement establishes Powhatan as the first major state correctional facility in the U.S. to have a videophone, which enables the deaf inmates to communicate with their family and friends in their native language. The settlement also provides these individuals with American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters two full days a week, as well as sign language interpretation of rules and orientation, disciplinary and release proceedings, medical appointments, and educational and vocational instruction. It also makes Video Remote Interpreting available 24 hours a day for emergency communications, and provides visual notifications about meals and events.

Heyer, et al., v. United States Bureau of Prisons, et al.
Cocounsel: Arnold & Porter LLP
Case No. 5:11-CV-318
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Filed June 20, 2011

Pending lawsuit on behalf of deaf detainees who use ASL. The complaint alleges that the BOP discriminated against these two individuals by failing to provide them with ASL interpreters at various prison functions including, but not limited to, medical visits, counseling sessions, and disciplinary proceedings.

Cooke et al. v. United States Bureau of Prisons, et al.
Cocounsel: Fried Frank
Case No.5:12-ct-03020
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Filed

Pending lawsuit on behalf of detainees who use wheelchairs.  The complaint alleges a lack of accessibility at BOP facilities.


TRANSPORTATION

Paratransit Services

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority
Cocounsel: Wiley Rein LLP
Case No. 1:04-CV-498
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement May 22, 2008

Class settlement ensured that Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) would make significant changes to MetroAccess, its paratransit service for people with disabilities. Under the agreement, WMATA increased its paratransit budget by $4 million over a three-year period and also agreed to hire expert consultants to improve its services. It also provided free rides to MetroAccess users for past and future service lapses. 


Car Rental Services

Equal Rights Center, et al., v. Zipcar
Cocounsel: Steptoe & Johnson LLP
Case No. 1:07-CV-1823
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement September 16, 2008

Agreement required pilot program offering vehicle equipped with hand controls to customers in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and to modify the number of vehicles equipped with hand controls depending on customer demand.

HEALTH CARE

Retail Healthcare

Equal Rights Center et al. v. Hour Eyes
Cocounsel: Crowell & Moring LLP
Case No. 1:10-CV-1113
District Court for the District of Columbia, Consent Decree, March 2, 2011

Consent Decree provides that the Eye Care Centers of America (ECCA) will improve accessibility in all ECCA stores across the country to people with disabilities. ECCA, one of the nation’s largest optometric retailers, has agreed to undertake unprecedented commitments to ensure accessibility across its fourteen brands of retail stores. No other eye care corporation of comparable size has ever agreed to make such far-reaching changes to its stores, examining rooms and equipment.


Equal Rights Center et al v. CVS Caremark Corporation
Case No. 8:09-CV-3275
District Court for the District of Maryland, Settlement Dec. 2, 2010

Agreement requires CVS to ensure that its stores across the country (over 7,100 locations) will be more accessible to people with disabilities and in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Among other things, the agreement requires that CVS remove barriers to accessibility at any stores it remodels or alters, remove barriers at each of its MinuteClinic retail health clinics, and install at least one wheelchair accessible front checkout and pharmacy counter in all of its stores.

Hospitals

Heisley, et al., v. Inova Health System
Cocounsel: Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP
Case No. 1:10-CV-714
District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Consent Decree, March 18, 2011

In a case in which the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, this Consent Decree requires Inova Fairfax Hospital to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services to patients, and patients’ companions, who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Washington Hospital Center
Cocounsel: Howrey LLP
Case No. 1:03-CV-2434
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement November 2, 2005

Settlement required  remediations to hospital facilities to ensure accessible patient rooms, and access, throughout the facility. The Settlement also required staff training and purchase of accessible medical equipment.

Gillespie et al. v. Laurel Regional Hospital
Cocounsel: Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP
Case No. DKC 8-05-cv-73
U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Settlement July 13, 2006

In a case in which the U.S. Department of Justice intervened, this Settlement requires appropriate auxiliary aids and services to patients, and patients’ companions, who are deaf, and for the first time sets forth guidelines for use of Video Remote Interpreting in a hospital setting.


Equal Rights Center, et al., v. Howard University d/b/a Howard University Hospital
Cocounsel: Jenner & Block LLP
Case No. 1:09-CV-01833
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement September 25, 2009

Access to medical facilities and equipment for people who use wheelchairs.

EMERGENCY EVACUATION

Savage, et al., v. Marshalls, et al.
Cocounsel: Hogan & Hartson LLP
Case No. 240306
2004 WL 3045404 (Md.Cir.Ct. 2004).
Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland, Ruling/Settlement January 28, 2005

Decision on a case of first impression, that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires places of public accommodation to consider the needs of people with disabilities in developing emergency evacuation plans.

PLACES OF PUBLIC ACCOMMODATION

Hotels

Equal Rights Center, et al., v. Hilton
Cocounsel: Gilbert LLP
Case No. 1:07-CV-1528
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement July 12, 2010

Settlement ensures that three Hilton Hotels in the District of Columbia make major changes to its facilities to ensure enhanced access for people with disabilities in both their guest rooms and public areas.

Retail Stores

Equal Rights Center v. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and Hollister
Cocounsel: Vinson & Elkins LLP
Case No. 1:09-CV-3157
U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Filed, November 24, 2009

Pending litigation against Abercrombie & Fitch alleging, among other things, that its Hollister brand stores violate federal law by building new stores with steps at their entrances.

 
Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Radio Shack
Cocounsel: Hogan & Hartson LLP
Case No. 1:03-CV-2596
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement June 22, 2005

Access to Radio Shack stores, merchandise aisles and interactive displays..

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc.
Cocounsel: McDermott Will & Emery
Case Not Filed
Settlement March 12, 2003

Barrier removal in over 4,000 stores, by removal of various structural barriers, removal of clutter in store aisles, and accessible fixture spacing.

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. The May Department Stores Company
Cocounsel: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
Case No. 1:01-CV-1076
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement January 24, 2005

Agreement to make May Department Stores (Hecht’s and Lord & Taylor) more accessible to people who use wheelchairs by providing, among other improvements, accessible pathways throughout the stores and to clothing racks and other displays.

Restaurants

Equal Rights Center, et al., v. Doctor’s Associates Inc., d/b/a Subway, et al.
Cocounsel: Crowell & Moring LLP
Case No. 1:06-CV-725
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement December 31, 2007

Barrier removal at Subway restaurants in the District of Columbia and provision of accommodations to make the restaurants more accessible.

Equal Rights Center, et al., v. Potbelly Sandwich Works LLC
Cocounsel: Bingham McCutcheon LLP
Case No. 1:07-CV-283
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement November 14, 2007

Agreement to install accessible seating in restaurants,and install accessible counters so that patrons using wheelchairs can effectively communicate with Potbelly employees when placing their orders.

Equal Rights Center, et al., v. The Johnny Rockets Group, Inc., et al.
Cocounsel: Morrison & Foerster LLP
Case No. 1:09-CV-1120
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement November 9, 2009

Agreement to make Johnny Rockets restaurants more accessible to people with disabilities at their entrances and to provide accessible counters and tables.


Equal Rights Center, et al., v. Così, Inc.
Cocounsel: Foley & Lardner LLP
Case No. 1:09-CV-1122
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement February 19, 2010

Agreement to survey Cosi restaurants for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to make all restaurants fully compliant within five years of the settlement.

The Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. AFC Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits
Cocounsel: Crowell & Moring LLP
Case Not Filed
Settlement September 20, 2001

Agreement  to make modifications to building design, provide franchise partner and employee training, and perform accessibility reviews of Popeyes restaurants.

The Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Burger King Corporation., et al.
Cocounsel: Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
Case No. 1:95-CV-1317
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement June 27, 1997

Agreement to survey Burger King restaurants for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and to make the necessary changes to make the restaurants accessible.

Grocery Stores

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Shoppers Food Warehouse Corporation, et al.
Cocounsel: Covington & Burling LLP
Case No. 8:00-CV-2190
U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Settlement June 27, 2001

Agreement to retain and work with a consultant to ensure that its stores are accessible.
   
The Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Giant Food, LLC
Case Not Filed
Settlement August 12, 1999

Agreement with the Giant grocery chain to modify store entrances and check out aisles.

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Safeway, Inc.
Cocounsel: Miller Cassidy
Case No. 94-0878
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Agreement to survey stores nationally to remove barriers at entries of its stores and remove other architectural barriers. 

Banks

National Federation of the Blind, Inc., et al., v. Chevy Chase Bank, F.S.B.
Cocounsel: Brown Goldstein & Levy LLP
Case No. 1:00-CV-1167
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement June 28, 2001

Agreement to equip ATM’s with voice guidance technology, which allows patrons who are blind to access their bank accounts by following audible instructions heard through headphones.

Movie Theaters

Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Cineplex Odeon Corporation, et al.
Cocounsel: Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
Case No. 1:97-CV-3023
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement August 19, 1999

Agreement to make movie theaters accessible by provision of accessible seating, removable armrests, companion seating, and accessible wheelchair spaces at theaters in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. 
   
Disability Rights Council of Greater Washington, et al., v. Cineplex Odeon Corporation, et al.
Cocounsel:  Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton LLP
Case No. 94-0679-SS
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Settlement March 30, 1994

Agreement to provide assistive listening devices in every local Cineplex theater; extended by an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to entire nation.

EMPLOYMENT

Hubbard, et al., v. John E. Potter, Postmaster General, United States Postal Service
Cocounsel: Covington & Burling LLP
Case No. 1:03-CV-1062
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Filed, May 14, 2003

Class action lawsuit on behalf of deaf postal workers nationwide who were not provided with interpreters at various job functions including emergency safety meetings, initiated following alleged failures of communication following the anthrax attacks of October,  2001.  A Proposed Class Action Settlement is pending approval and a fairness hearing before the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.

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