Gregg Kelley, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs Gregg_Kelley@washlaw.org, 202-319-1070
WASHINGTON – Yesterday, the Equal Rights Center (ERC) and Mr. Sylvester Fiers reached a settlement with Walter Reed National Military Hospital and U.S Navy Exchange Service Command to provide wheelchair accessible restrooms at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the U.S. Navy Exchange (collectively, “Walter Reed”). For many years, restrooms at Walter Reed have been inaccessible to wheelchair users, in violation of federal law. After more than a year of unsuccessful advocacy to have Walter Reed and the Navy Exchange meet their basic obligation to provide accessible restrooms, the ERC and Mr. Fiers filed the lawsuit in 2018 to compel prompt remediation of these restrooms and ensure that all veterans and other Walter Reed patients and customers have equal access to the campus.
Initially, Mr. Fiers, a local military family member and wheelchair user, encountered difficulty using the restroom facilities at Walter Reed and the Navy Exchange and reported his experiences to the ERC. The ERC then conducted a civil rights testing investigation, which objectively confirmed his experiences. As a result of the litigation and settlement, the Defendants have fixed many of the restrooms the ERC tested and have committed to fixing other Walter Reed restrooms, coming into full compliance with applicable standards of accessibility. In addition, Walter Reed will hire an expert consultant to survey the accessibility of restrooms across the Walter Reed campus and provide training to ensure that future renovations will comply with the law. These long overdue renovations will ensure that all veterans, regardless of disability, have equal access to the facility and eliminate a shameful legacy of discrimination against wheelchair users by the United States military.
The ERC is a national civil rights organization with a long, successful record of advocacy for persons with disabilities. Mr. Fiers is a military dependent with disabilities who uses Walter Reed for his medical care.
“Although it has taken far too long, I am glad that Walter Reed is finally taking steps to ensure that the restrooms throughout the campus are accessible and usable. The previous situation was appalling. I would think a military facility that has a lot of people using wheelchairs would do a better job of having accessible bathrooms,” said Mr. Fiers.
Under the settlement agreement, Defendants will also establish a procedure for individuals who encounter inaccessible buildings or restrooms to report problems and for Walter Reed to respond.
The Equal Rights Center and Mr. Fiers are represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the law firm of Beveridge & Diamond, P.C.
“We are pleased to resolve this matter on favorable terms but remain outraged that it took this long to do so. Though much progress has been made, wheelchair users today still regularly encounter basic violations of legal requirements for accessibility, including at federally-managed facilities. An institution like Walter Reed should be leading compliance with these civil rights protections,” stated Kate Scott of the Equal Rights Center.
“Today’s settlement will help ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to the Walter Reed Military Hospital facilities. It is a cruel irony that a military hospital serving service members and veterans who are more likely to have mobility disabilities maintained inaccessible restrooms for so long,” said Kaitlin Banner of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.
“Wheelchair users, including our country’s veterans, deserve far better than conditions they have historically experienced at Walter Reed. While our preference of course would be to accomplish needed change without litigation in the first place, we are pleased with the highly successful settlement outcome that will achieve justice for and will benefit so many veterans. Beveridge & Diamond appreciates our longstanding partnership with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and the Equal Rights Center and the opportunity to serve these important public interests,” said James Auslander of Beveridge & Diamond.
ABOUT THE EQUAL RIGHTS CENTER: The ERC is a civil rights organization that identifies and seeks to eliminate unlawful and unfair discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations in its home community of Greater Washington DC and nationwide. The ERC’s core strategy for identifying unlawful and unfair discrimination is civil rights testing. When the ERC identifies discrimination, it seeks to eliminate it through the use of testing data to educate the public and business community, support policy advocacy, conduct compliance testing and training, and, if necessary, take enforcement action. For more information, please visit www.equalrightscenter.org.
ABOUT THE WASHINGTON LAWYERS’ COMMITTEE: Founded in 1968, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression. For more information, please visit www.washlaw.org or call 202.319.1000. Follow us on Twitter at @WashLaw4CR.
ABOUT BEVERIDGE & DIAMOND, P.C.: Since 1974, Beveridge & Diamond, P.C. has defined the practice of environmental law in the U.S. With over 125 attorneys in Washington, DC and nationwide, the Firm has helped clients achieve success in every substantive area of environmental law, litigation, and project development, and in numerous venues locally, nationally, and globally. The Firm has a longstanding commitment to pro bono service, including remedying accessibility and other civil rights violations in partnership with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the Equal Rights Center. For more information, please visit www.bdlaw.com.