Zoom in on Court Decisions and Settlements
Appeals Court Makes U-Turn in NYC Taxi Case
The Appeals Court for the Second Circuit reversed a lower court order in the case of Noel v. New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), which sought to increase the accessibility of New York City’s taxi fleet. Individuals with disabilities and advocates sued TLC, claiming that the Commission has a responsibility to ensure a greater level of accessibility to the taxi system.
The plaintiffs in the case used an interesting approach, because the taxi system comprises privately owned and operated vehicles, which must obtain “medallions” from TLC and comply with myriad regulations in order to operate in the city; private taxi companies (covered by Title III of the ADA), operating only traditional automobiles (not vans or buses) are specifically exempt from any requirement to obtain lift- or ramp-equipped vehicles to accommodate people with disabilities.
However, TLC is a public entity covered by Title II of the ADA, and Title II has more stringent requirements to ensure access to public transportation systems. The plaintiffs in this case argued that because TLC maintains such tight control over taxis, and because the taxi system in New York is so integral to the city’s overall public transportation network, TLC should bear responsibility to ensure the availability of more accessible vehicles.
The judge at the District Court agreed with the plaintiffs, issuing an order to prevent granting any new medallions for the operation of inaccessible vehicles until the city formulated a comprehensive improvement plan.
The Appeals Court noted that the facts of the case were “not in dispute,” recognizing that approximately 98% of the taxi fleet is inaccessible and “the chances of hailing any taxi in Manhattan within ten minutes is 87.33%, whereas the chances of hailing an accessible taxi within ten minutes is 3.31%.” However, the court found that TLC’s obligations extend only to its licensees, not to its licensees’ customers; Title II merely requires TLC to ensure that its licensing and regulatory procedures are non-discriminatory, affording an equal opportunity to anyone with a disability who seeks to obtain a medallion and operate a taxi in the city.
EEOC Obtains Substantial Relief through Settlements
Homestead Gardens to Pay $50,000 to Worker
Homestead Gardens, a large garden center located in Davidson, Maryland, will pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of employee Richard Starkey. Mr. Starkey’s mother disclosed to Homestead Gardens that her son has hemophilia, and the employer told him not to return to work.
Homestead Gardens, in addition to the sum it will pay Mr. Starkey, will train its managers and supervisors on the requirements of anti-discrimination laws, revise and implement policies to handle requests for reasonable accommodations and allegations of discrimination or retaliation, and submit reports to the EEOC.
Find the EEOC’s press release on Homestead Gardens.
Johns Hopkins Home Health Care to Pay $160,000 to Settle Lawsuit
The EEOC also settled a lawsuit it filed alleging that a Maryland home health care agency discriminated against Ray Ellen Fisher by failing to reasonably accommodate her disability (breast cancer), then retaliating against her and ultimately firing her after she filed a complaint.
Fisher, a registered nurse, will receive $160,000 in lost wages and compensatory damages. Additionally, the agency will modify its policies and train its personnel.
The EEOC press release on Johns Hopkins Home Health Care is online.
Adams Jeep of Maryland to Pay $50,000 to Worker
An auto dealership in Aberdeen, Maryland allegedly harassed and then fired Amy Smith after she told managers she had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. The EEOC claimed Ms. Smith was subjected to harassment, including being called “pill-popper” and “psycho,” and was then fired while on a medical leave. The monetary payment represents back pay and compensatory damages. The employer will also implement new policies and procedures, train staff, and submit reports to the EEOC.
Find the press release on Adams Jeep of Maryland on EEOC’s site.
Judge Gives Go-Ahead for Netflix Lawsuit: Says ADA Covers Online-Only Business
A District Court judge in Massachusetts refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) against Netflix, alleging that the business violates the ADA by failing to provide captions for most of its programming, which is streamed online.
Netflix made several related arguments, primarily claiming that Title III of the ADA covers only public accommodations that operate in physical structures, not those that operate only online. Judge Michael Ponsor disagreed, noting that online businesses generally “did not exist when the ADA was passed,” but “the legislative history of the ADA makes clear that Congress intended the ADA to adapt to changes in technology.”
Read the full court order in NAD v Netflix.
DOJ Obtains $10.5 Million Settlement in Fair Housing Act Case
The Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a settlement agreement with JPI Construction and six other JPI entities, resolving allegations that the companies violated the Fair Housing Act when constructing multi-family housing properties. JPI and its affiliates constructed hundreds of such properties in 26 states across the country, as well as the District of Columbia; a DOJ investigation found accessibility barriers at dozens of them.
JPI will establish a $10,250,000 accessibility fund to retrofit properties and to increase the stock of accessible housing in the communities where these properties are located. JPI will also pay a $250,000 civil penalty, the largest civil penalty the Justice Department has ever obtained in a Fair Housing Act case.