Legislators Attempt to Limit Rights of Disabled People
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
State and federal legislators are making a concerted effort to limit disabled people in their ability to file lawsuits against companies that don’t adhere to provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and state laws such as California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. In California, Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray introduced a bill (Assembly Bill 913) that would target “high-frequency litigants,” and essentially limit the number of lawsuits that a person could file on a yearly basis. And in the US House of Representatives, Republican Jeff Denham (CA) put forward a measure (House Resolution 1493) that would amend the ADA to give businesses a 120-day grace period before civil action could be pursued. Another bill introduced in the House is the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (HR 620) which prohibits civil actions unless the aggrieved person has given the business enough notice to remove the barrier.
AB 913 stalled in the Judiciary Committee with a 3 to 4 vote against it, but Gray has indicated that he will continue to pursue the issue despite the result.
Reasons to Oppose These Measures
According to the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) – an organization that aims to increase “the political and economic power of people with disabilities” – HR 620 would seriously hurt the ADA’s capacity to protect disabled people and essentially transform them into second-class citizens. By reframing the issue and making the disabled person an antagonist and the business, a victim, HR 620 (and bills like it) gives business’ the incentive to “wait and see” instead of fixing the problem.
In fact, under HR 620, businesses would have 60 days to acknowledge the issue and an extra 120 days to address the problem. As AAPD points out, no other civil rights group must deal with such bureaucratic impediments. Furthermore, HR 620 calls for efforts to educate businesses on the provisions of the ADA, as if the law hasn’t been around for 27 years and as if there aren’t already numerous programs devoted to such education, including the DOJ ADA website, the DOJ ADA hotline, extensive DOJ technical assistance materials and other resources. Lastly at the federal level the question of money is a non-issue, because the ADA does not provide for monetary damages. That’s a state law issue.
The Dispute Over AB 913
According to the Modesto Bee, California Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) expressed concern over whether it is constitutional to limit the rights of disabled people. And Anthony Goldsmith of Californians for Disability Rights said, “I don’t believe it will reduce the number of lawsuits filed,” adding “it doesn’t create a benefit, to my mind, for anyone.” Committee Chairman Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) stated that he just isn’t comfortable focusing energy on those who sue as opposed to their lawyers.
In arguing for AB 913, Gray cited a number of “predatory lawsuits,” noting that a majority of claims were filed by a small number of people. However, what he failed to recognize is the simple fact that these businesses are required by law to make their facilities accessible to disabled people, a portion of the population that is systematically excluded from certain aspects of civil society. If, as Gray pointed out, the costliness of such changes deters businesses from removing barriers, then he ought to write legislation providing funding to those in need, instead of punishing those who are fighting for much needed changes.