[Nfbmo] Taco Bell lawsuit

Nancy Lynn freespirit at accessibleworld.org
Sat Nov 12 20:29:01 UTC 2011

Taco Bell Awaits Sanctions in Accessibility Suit

Taco Bell is expected to appeal ruling that it violated Americans with
Disabilities Act

By Lisa Jennings 
Nation's Restaurant News, October 25, 2011 |

A recent federal court decision that found Taco Bell in violation of federal
and state laws protecting the rights of customers who use wheelchairs or
scooters should motivate restaurant operators to comply with access rules,
attorneys say.

Observers expect the Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell to appeal the Oct. 5
ruling in the class-action case. A spokesman for the company declined to

However, sanctions against Taco Bell are still pending and could potentially
total millions of dollars under California law.

Filed in 2002, the lawsuit alleges that more than 200 Taco Bell restaurants
in California had numerous barriers for access to customers who use
wheelchairs and scooters, violating the federal Americans with Disabilities
Act and state law.

According to the lawsuit, Taco Bell's service lines and doorways were too
narrow, and doors were hard to open. The restrooms and parking areas were
deemed inaccessible, as were some seating areas and the condiment counter,
along with other violations.

Taco Bell has argued that most of the violations have been fixed.

Still, U.S. District Court judge Phyllis Hamilton allowed the case to
continue, in part because of Taco Bell's "pattern of past violations."

The ruling earlier this month came after a trial held in a San Pablo,
Calif., Taco Bell unit in June. The location was used as an example of
conditions at other company-operated stores in California.

Few ADA cases go to trial, with the parties typically settling, ADA experts
in California said.

Richard Segal, an attorney for Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in San
Diego who was not involved in the case, said the Taco Bell case could be
very expensive.

"This decision is one that should be something of a wake-up call for
restaurants," Segal said. "Merely fixing a violation once a lawsuit is
brought might not get you off the hook."

ADA suits around the industry Taco Bell is one of a number of restaurant
chains that recently have been targeted by the plaintiff's attorneys on
behalf of disabled clients.

Tim Fox, the Denver attorney representing Francie Moeller and others who
sued Taco Bell, also filed a class-action lawsuit against Miami-based Burger
King Corp., citing problems with wheelchair access among 10 units the burger
chain leased in California.

That case was settled last year, with Burger King agreeing to pay damages of
about $5 million, without admission of liability, according to the
settlement agreement.

A second, potentially larger class-action suit filed by the same plaintiffs
citing violations at another 86 Burger King locations in California also is
underway, according to Burger King's 2010 annual report filed in March.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. also is appealing a court ruling last year that
found the Denver-based chain in violation of ADA requirements, as
wheelchair-bound guests couldn't enjoy the full "Chipotle experience" of
watching their food prepared because the service line wall was too high.

In its 2010 annual report, Chipotle officials said they already have lowered
the height of the service line wall, both in California stores and most
others outside the state. The case is still pending.

California is a hotbed for such litigation in part because state law permits
the "monetary sting" of damages, Segal said.

Potential penalties Under California law, violators of ADA rules
theoretically face a statutory penalty per incident of either $4,000 or
$1,000 for each person in the class, depending on the statute cited and
whether the violation was intentional, said Janet Grumer, an attorney with
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP in Los Angeles.

How such penalties might be applied in the Taco Bell case is yet to be
determined, Segal said.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also are seeking an injunction against Taco
Bell for future violations. The court is holding off on that decision until
after it rules on a motion by Taco Bell to decertify the lawsuit's
class-action status, according to court documents. In her ruling, however,
Hamilton noted that the injunction sought was "overly broad."

An injunction could raise the stakes significantly, as any future problem
with ADA compliance would not only violate state and federal laws, Segal
said, "you're also violating a direct court order against you."

Grumer of Davis Wright Tremaine said the lesson for restaurant operators is
to take a good look at their ADA and state law compliances on access for
disabled customers.

"Restaurant owners should be proactive and do what they can before they get
sued," Grumer said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings at penton.com.

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