By Frank C. Morris, Jr.
Hotels and other hospitality facilities are frequent targets of both government enforcement actions and private litigants alleging violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulating public accommodations. Hospitality properties are considered public accommodations under the ADA, and alleged ADA violations can affect any lodging, restaurant, or other hospitality property.
The Trump Taj Mahal (Taj) was subject to an ADA compliance review several years ago, and alleged ADA violations led to a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). All hospitality properties can benefit from a brief review of the kinds of issues leading to the Taj-DOJ settlement.
The issues identified by DOJ included:
- The accessible route to the Taj was difficult to locate and lacked sufficient and compliant signage.
- Public toilet rooms lacked permanent signage with raised characters and braille mounted on the walls adjacent to the latch side of the entrances at the appropriate height.
- Buffet counter surfaces were not at the compliant height.
- Buffet plate stacks were not within the required reach range when fully stacked.
- Accessible parking space signage was missing from some designated accessible spaces.
- Public toilet rooms had various issues including:
- Toilets in accessible stalls had flush controls on the narrow side of the toilet.
- Toilet seats were not at the compliant height.
- Toilet paper dispensers in accessible stalls were not mounted at the complaint height.
- Lavatory pipes under the designated accessible lavatory were not insulated or configured against contact
As the Taj–DOJ settlement agreement highlights, prudent owners and operators of hospitality facilities may be well advised to work with counsel for a privileged review to see if there are issues which might create potential ADA Title III claims. Assuring the accessibility of entrances and properly marked accessible routes to the entrance is a good starting point. Accessible route issues include slopes of the route, a firm surface, and the presence of compliant curb cuts when needed. Similarly, assuring an adequate number of appropriately located and sized accessible parking spaces with proper signage on an accessible route will permit guests with a disability to access the property from parking areas.
Prudent owners and operators of hospitality facilities may be well advised to work with counsel for a privileged review to see if there are issues which might create potential ADA Title III claims
Attention to the myriad detailed requirements for public restrooms under the ADA Standards for Accessible Design (Standards) is also a key item. Similarly, compliance with accessible routes, accessible tables, bar areas, and counters, and other requirements of the Standards for food and beverage service areas is needed. Accessible counters for check-in and other transaction areas should also be assured. Attention to policy matters also helps prevent problems. As the Taj example illustrates, staff training in that plates, glasses, condiments, and other items are not placed outside of reach ranges is important. Staff should be trained not to move tables so that they block accessible routes within restaurants and bars. They should also be trained not to leave boxes from deliveries blocking accessible routes for prolonged periods.
The good news is that with attention to such details, hospitality properties can minimize their potential Title III ADA exposure.
Frank C. Morris, Jr., is a Member of Epstein Becker Green in the Litigation and Employee Benefits practices, heads the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice in the Washington, DC, office, and co-chairs the firm’s ADA and Public Accommodations Group. Mr. Morris was selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America (2013 to 2017) in the field of Employment Law—Management and named to the Washington, DC, Super Lawyers list (2007, 2009 to 2017) in the areas of Employment & Labor, Employee Benefits, and Appellate. He was also recommended in the Labor and Employment Disputes (Including Collective Actions): Defense category by The Legal 500 United States (2014, 2016, 2017).
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