Friday, February 8, 2008

Restaurants must accommodate blind patrons under the Americans With Disabilities Act

The Court of Appeals has reinstated an Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit alleging that fast-food restaurants were not properly accommodating a patron who needed help reading the menus. The case is Camarillo v. Carrolls Corporation, decided on February 8. Here are the facts:

Alice Camarillo, who is legally blind but is able to read enlarged writing at a very close distance, frequently patronizes the fast food restaurants near her home that are owned and operated by defendants. Defendants’ restaurants do not have large print menus that Camarillo can read, and when she has asked for employees to read her the menu items, she has been made fun of, stared at, and forced to wait until other customers behind her in line were served, and the employees have often read her only part of the menus.

The district court dismissed the case under Rule 12 because Camarillo was still able to eat and otherwise use the restaurants and therefore did not suffer discrimination. The Court of Appeals (Wesley, Straub and Livingston) disagreed. The question is whether she suffered discrimination under the ADA. While Camarillo argued that she was denied a "full and equal" opportunity to use the restuarants which denied large print menus and other means to ensure effective communication of the food choices, the restaurants argued that the ADA only requires that menus be made available to patrons and that plaintiff is really only complaining about poor service.

At this stage of the case, the Second Circuit agrees with Camarillo:

The complaint alleges that on multiple visits to each of defendants’ restaurants, Camarillo informed employees that because of her disability she could not read the menu herself, and that the employees “often” responded with annoyance or impatience, at best reading her only a “part” of the menu. . . . While restaurants are not necessarily required to have on hand large print menus that Camarillo would be able to read, they are required to ensure that their menu options are effectively communicated to individuals who, like Camarillo, are legally blind. . . . Put simply, Camarillo cannot experience “full and equal enjoyment” of defendants’ services if she is unable to access the list of the services available to her.

Moreover, the defendants failed to adopt policies to effectively train their employees how to deal with disabled patrons, and they thus failed to take steps under the ADA to ensure that patrons are not treated differently because of their disabilities.

Camarillo also has standing to bring this case. Normally, litigants can't sue over discriminatory practices if there is no reason to believe those practices will harm them in the future. Camarillo gets around this hurdle because she alleges that she has has eaten at these restaurants frequently in the past and plans to do so again. As the Court of Appeals cites a Ninth Circuit case for this reasoning (Pickern v. Holiday Quality Foods Inc., 293 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 2002), in its own small way, this decision advances the "standing" rights of disabled people in the Second Circuit.

1 comment:

Karen said...

I'm watching this case with interest as I had an incident with Steak 'n Shake where service was denied because I could not use the speaker:

It will be interesting to see if the outcome of this case will result in nationwide training for all fast food restaurants.