Starline Tours of Hollywood, Inc. which bills itself as “the oldest and largest sightseeing tour company in Los Angeles,” and services over a 1 million people annually, has agreed to modify their former practices and procedures in order to better accommodate disabled tourists who wish to take their tours.
In a consent decree filed Monday, Starline agreed to make all new vehicles in their fleet accessible to riders in wheelchairs. Starline will also make sure to have enough wheelchair-accessible vehicles in their fleet “to ensure a level of service for individuals who use wheelchairs that is equivalent to the level of service provided to individuals without disabilities.”
The changes are in response to a federal lawsuit filed against the tour company by Assistant U.S. Atty. Robyn-Marie Lyon Monteleon. The suit, alleging the tour company violated numerous sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), was initiated by a wheel-chair bound Starline passenger who could not be accommodated during a 2011 visit to L.A.
According to the decree, only 25 of the 90 vehicles Starline currently operates are wheelchair-accessible. The company did not admit liability or violation of the disabilities act. However Starline did agree to pay a fine of $5,000, and $15,000 in compensation for the affected individual and her group.
To further comport with the ADA, Starline will be provide mandatory training for employees on how to comply with the law.
Below is a short summation of the requirements that Starline and other business must comply with under Title III of the ADA.
Under Title III, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability to “the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.”
Generally, this means that private businesses that are open to the public including restaurants, department stores, convenience stores and specialty shops, hotels and motels must allow individuals with disabilities to participate equally in the goods and services that they offer. This title also requires that all future commercial facilities, including office buildings, factories, warehouses, as well as places of public accommodation, be constructed so that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Title III of the ADA, applies to all “new construction”. New construction is defined as any construction, modification or alterations after the July 1992 effective date of the ADA. Thus, any “new construction” built after July 1992 must be fully compliant with the ADA Guidelines.
While public accommodations and facilities older than 1992 are generally exempt from the mandatory “new construction” compliance, Title III has application to pre existing facilities as well. For example, Title III defines “discrimination” as a “failure to remove” architectural barriers in existing facilities.
This means that even facilities that have not been modified or altered in any way after the ADA was passed still have obligations. The standard for bringing a condition into compliance with ADA Guidelines, is “readily achievable,” which the court defines as “easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense.”
To determine “readily achievable” courts apply a balancing test weighing the costs associated with a proposed “fix” against the financial wherewithal of the business and/or its respective owners. Often times, the larger and more sophisticated firms are deemed more “readily available” to comply with the ADA Guidelines than small or local businesses.
The law does carve out some exceptions to title III including many private clubs and religious organizations and a more limited exception for historic properties.