Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act

AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT of 1990 TITLE II–PUBLIC SERVICES

SEC. 201. DEFINITION.

As used in this title: Continue reading

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504. [Pub. L. 93-112] [29 U.S.C. 794] Nondiscrimination under Federal grants and programs; promulgation of rules and regulations

(a) Promulgation of rules and regulations Continue reading

Discrimination in Public Accommodations

What is a Public Accommodation?

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination against certain protected groups in businesses and places that are considered “public accommodations.” The definition of a “public accommodation” may vary depending upon the law at issue (i.e. federal or state), and the type of discrimination involved (i.e. race discrimination or disability discrimination). Generally speaking, it may help to think of public accommodations as most (but not all) businesses or buildings that are open to (or offer services to) the general public. More specifically, the definition of a “public accommodation” can be broken down into two types of businesses / facilities:

  • Government-owned/operated facilities, services, and buildings
  • Privately-owned/operated businesses, services, and buildings

Government-owned/operated facilities and services. Government-owned facilities include courthouses, jails, hospitals, parks, and other places owned and operated by federal, state and local government. Government-operated services, programs, or activities provided by federal, state, or local governments include transportation systems and government benefits programs (such as welfare assistance).

Privately-owned/operated businesses and buildings. Privately-owned businesses and facilities that offer certain goods or services to the public — including food, lodging, gasoline, and entertainment — are considered public accommodations for purposes of federal and state anti-discrimination laws. For purposes of disability discrimination, the definition of a “public accommodation” is even more broad, encompassing most businesses that are open to the public (regardless of type).

Laws Prohibiting Discrimination in Public Accommodations: Race, Color, Religion, and National Origin

Federal law prohibits public accommodations from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. If you think that you have been discriminated against in using such a facility, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, or with the United States attorney in your area. You may also file suit in the U.S. district court.

There are also state laws that broadly prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, and national origin in places of public accommodation. To determine whether your state has such a law, you should contact your state or local human rights agency, your state attorney general’s office, or speak to a Civil Rights attorney in your area.

Laws Prohibiting Discrimination in Public Accommodations and Disability Discrimination

At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in a wide range of places of public accommodation, including facilities that offer lodging, food, entertainment, sales or rental services, health care and other professional services, or recreation. State and local governments must eliminate any eligibility criteria for participation in programs, activities, and services that screen out or tend to screen out persons with disabilities, unless the government can establish that the requirements are necessary for the provision of the service, program, or activity. In addition, public facilities must ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs, or activities because buildings are inaccessible.

There are also state laws that broadly prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodation. To determine whether your state has such a law, you should contact your state or local human rights agency, your state attorney general’s office, or speak to a Civil Rights attorney in your area.

Civil Rights in Public Accommodations and Facilities: Law and History

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man who had boarded the bus after she did. At that time, public buses in the South were segregated, and African-Americans not only had to ride in the back of the bus, but also had to give up their seats to any white person who wanted to sit. Ms. Parks was arrested and taken to jail for refusing to give up her seat. On December 5, 1955, African-Americans in Montgomery began a boycott of the public buses led by a minister who had recently come to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The peaceful boycott continued for 381 days during which time 90% of the African-Americans in Montgomery refused to ride the buses. At the end, the buses in Montgomery were desegregated.

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation because of race, color, religion, or national origin. Places of public accommodation are hotels, motels, restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums, and concert halls.

Until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, persons from minority groups were excluded from, or segregated in, restaurants, motels, theaters, and other places of public accommodations. On February 1, 1960, 4 African-American students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College went into the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat down at the lunch counter and ordered cups of coffee. The waitress refused to serve them coffee unless they stood up to drink it because only whites were allowed to sit at the lunch counter. The black students sat at the lunch counter until the store closed, but were never served their coffee. The next day they returned with more students and the peaceful protest called a “sit-in” was begun. Across the South, peaceful sit-ins by students took place in more than 100 cities in 1960. Although the protesters were beaten, and sometimes sent to jail, they continued to peacefully sit-in until they achieved their goals – desegregation of places of public accommodation.

In 1961, a new phase of the movement to desegregate places of public accommodation began – the “Freedom Rides.” African-Americans were still sitting in the back of the buses in the South and were not permitted to use “whites only” restroom facilities in the terminals even though the Supreme Court had outlawed segregation on interstate buses (buses that traveled between states) in 1946. In May 1961, the first group of 13 Freedom Riders, white and black ranging in age from college students to a 60-year-old professor and his wife, left Washington, DC, on their way via Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to New Orleans, Louisiana. They went in 2 buses. Riders in the first bus were attacked in both Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama. The Freedom Riders on this bus were beaten by men with pipes. The second bus was firebombed just outside of Anniston, Alabama.

Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public facilities because of race, color, religion, or national origin. Public facilities are facilities owned, operated or managed by state or local governments, like courthouses or jails. At the same time as the sit-ins and Freedom Rides, other protesters demonstrated against segregation in public facilities.

Discrimination in Public Accommodations: Government Enforcement

When and Where to File a Complaint — Public Accommodations and Facilities

Federal law prohibits privately owned facilities that offer food, lodging, gasoline or entertainment to the public from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. If you think that you have been discriminated against in using such a facility, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, or with the United States attorney in your area. You may also file suit in the U.S. district court.

In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in a wide range of places of public accommodation, including facilities that offer lodging, food, entertainment, sales or rental services, health care and other professional services, or recreation.

There are also state laws that broadly prohibit discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, national origin, and disability in places of public accommodation. To determine whether your state has such a law, you should contact your state or local human rights agency, or your state attorney general’s office.

Public facilities such as courthouses, jails, hospitals, parks, and other facilities owned and operated by state and local government entities cannot discriminate in their services because of race, color, religion, national origin, or disability. If you think a public facility has discriminated against you because of race, color, religion, or national origin, you may file suit in the U.S. district court or file a complaint with the nearest U.S. Attorney’s Office.

People with disabilities cannot be discriminated against or excluded from services, programs, or activities offered by state or local governments. All public transportation systems must be accessible to people with disabilities, regardless of whether the system receives federal financial assistance.

State and local governments must eliminate any eligibility criteria for participation in programs, activities, and services that screen out or tend to screen out persons with disabilities, unless the government can establish that the requirements are necessary for the provision of the service, program, or activity. In addition, public facilities must ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs, or activities because buildings are inaccessible.

State and local agencies that provide emergency telephone services must provide “direct access” to individuals who rely on telecommunication display devices (TTD’s pr TTY’s) for the deaf, or computer modems for telephone communication. Companies offering telephone services to the general public must offer telephone relay services to individuals who use TTY’s or similar devices.

Intrastate complaints should be filed with that state. Interstate complaints should be filed with the Federal Communications Commission.

Discrimination complaints about public facilities (other than Architectural Barriers Act complaints, see below) should be sent to:

  • the federal agency that provides funding to the facility subject to the complaint;
  • the federal agency designated to investigate complaints; or
  • the Department of Justice.

Complaints may always be filed with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, which will refer your complaint to the appropriate agency.

Complaints regarding new construction of, or alterations to buildings or facilities funded by the federal government and subject to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 should be sent to:

Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
Office of Compliance and Enforcement
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
(202) 222-0800
(800) 872-2253
TTY: (202) 272-0082
TTY: (202) 993-2822
Fax: (202) 272-0081

The Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice handles complaints of discrimination based on disability in places of public accommodation, including all hotels, restaurants, retail stores, theaters, health care facilities, convention centers, parks, and places of recreation. To file a complaint of discrimination based on disability, call (800) 514-0301 and send your complaint to:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
(202) 307-2227
TTY: (800) 514-0383
Fax: (202) 307-1198

If the Disability Rights Section believes that there is a pattern or practice of discrimination, or the complaint raises an issue of general public importance, it may attempt to negotiate a settlement of the matter, or bring an action in U.S. district court. Any such action would be taken on behalf of the United States. You also have the option of filing your own lawsuit in U.S. district court.

ADA Access to Buildings and Businesses (Public Accommodations)

A federal law that requires most business and facilities to provide reasonable access and accommodation for all disabled customers, clients, and members of the public. This law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), applies to almost all businesses that are open to the public, regardless of size. Below is an introduction to the ADA and its application to “public accommodations.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that prohibits the exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday activities, such as buying an item at the store, watching a movie in a theater, enjoying a meal at a local restaurant, exercising at the local health club, or having the car serviced at a local garage. To meet the goals of the ADA, the law established requirements for private businesses of all sizes. These requirements first went into effect on January 26, 1992.

In recognition that many small businesses cannot afford to make significant physical changes to their stores or places of business to provide accessibility to wheelchair users and other people with disabilities, the ADA has requirements for existing facilities built before 1993 that are less strict than for ones built after early 1993 or modified after early 1992.

Private Businesses that Serve the Public: “Public Accommodations”

Private businesses that provide goods or services to the public are called “public accommodations” under the ADA. The ADA establishes requirements for twelve categories of public accommodations, including stores and shops, restaurants and bars, service establishments, theaters, hotels, recreation facilities, private museums and schools, and others. Nearly all types of private businesses that serve the public are included in the categories, regardless of size. Existing facilities are not exempted by “grandfather provisions” that are often used by building code officials.

New Construction and Alterations

The ADA requires that newly constructed facilities, first occupied on or after January 26, 1993, meet or exceed the minimum requirements of the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Alterations to facilities, spaces or elements (including renovations) on or after January 26, 1992, also must comply with the Standards. Renovations or modifications are considered to be alterations when they affect the usability of the element or space. For example, installing a new display counter, moving walls in a sales area, replacing fixtures, carpet or flooring, and replacing an entry door. However, simple maintenance, such as repainting a wall is not considered an alteration by the ADA.

Disability Access: How to File an ADA Title III Complaint

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability in public accommodations. Private entities covered by title III include places of lodging, establishments serving food and drink, places of exhibition or entertainment, places of public gathering, sales or rental establishments, service establishments, stations used for specified public transportation, places of public display or collection, places of recreation, places of education, social service center establishments, and places of exercise or recreation. Title III also covers commercial facilities (such as warehouses, factories, and office buildings), private transportation services, and licensing and testing practices.

If you feel you or another person have been discriminated against by an entity covered by title III, one of your options is to file a complaint with the federal government. You can send a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, at the address below, including the following information:

  • Your full name, address, and telephone number, and the name of the party discriminated against;
  • The name of the business, organization, or institution that you believe has discriminated;
  • A description of the act or acts of discrimination, the date or dates of the discriminatory acts, and the name or names of the individuals who you believe discriminated; and
  • Other information that you believe necessary to support your complaint. Please send copies of relevant documents. Do not send original documents. (Retain them.)

Sign and send the letter to the address below:

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights – NYAVE
Washington, D.C. 20530

The Disability Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will consider your complaint and inform you of its action. The office will investigate the complaint and determine whether to begin litigation, but will not necessarily make a determination on each complaint about whether or not there is an ADA violation. If the Disability Rights Section believes there is a pattern or practice of discrimination, or the complaint raises an issue of general public importance, it may attempt to negotiate a settlement of the matter or may bring an action in U.S. District Court. Any such action would be taken on behalf of the Unites States. The Disability Rights Section does not act as an attorney for, or representative of, the complainant.

You also have the option of filing your own case in U.S. District Court.

Depending on the nature of your complaint, other information would also be helpful to the government’s investigation:

    1. Small businesses have limited protection from lawsuits. Except with respect to new construction and alterations, no lawsuit can be filed concerning acts or omissions that occur before —

1) July 26, 1992, by businesses with 25 or fewer employees and gross receipts of $1,000,000 or less.

2) January 26, 1993, by businesses with 10 or fewer employees and gross receipts of $500,000 or less.

  1. The name or names of the individuals or entities who have an ownership and/or managerial interest in each facility or business that is the subject of your complaint, with phone numbers and addresses, including zip codes, if you have them.
  2. Information specifying whether the facility is owned and/or operated by a private entity or a state or local government.
  3. The nature of the activity or service provided by the business.
  4. If you are alleging failure to remove architectural barriers, a description (including as much detail as possible) of the barriers. If possible, please provide pictures, videotapes, diagrams, or other illustrations that accurately set forth the alleged violation.
  5. Any suggestions for remedying the alleged violations of the ADA.
  6. Information about whether you have filed a related complaint with a U.S. Attorneys Office, or any other federal, state, or local agency, or any court, or whether you intend to file such a complaint.

Disabled Access to Buildings and Businesses: FAQ

Q: What is a “public accommodation” under the ADA?
A: Private businesses that provide goods or services to the public are called public accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA establishes requirements for twelve categories of public accommodations, including stores and shops, restaurants and bars, service establishments, theaters, hotels, recreation facilities, private museums and schools and others. Nearly all types of private businesses that serve the public are included in the categories, regardless of size.

Q: Is a business automatically required to remove “barriers” to access under the ADA?
A: If a business provides goods and services to the public, it is required to remove barriers to access if doing so is readily achievable. Such a business is called a public accommodation because it serves the public. If a business is not open to the public but is only a place of employment like a warehouse, manufacturing facility or office building, then there is no requirement to remove barriers. Such a facility is called a commercial facility.

Q: How do I determine what is “readily achievable” for a business?
A: “Readily achievable” means easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Determining if barrier removal is readily achievable is, by necessity, a case-by-case judgment. Factors to consider include:

1) The nature and cost of the action;

2) The overall financial resources of the site or sites involved; the number of persons employed at the site; the effect on expenses and resources; legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation, including crime prevention measures; or any other impact of the action on the operation of the site;

3) The geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the site or sites in question to any parent corporation or entity;

4) If applicable, the overall financial resources of any parent corporation or entity; the overall size of the parent corporation or entity with respect to the number of its employees; the number, type, and location of its facilities; and

5) If applicable, the type of operation or operations of any parent corporation or entity, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of the parent corporation or entity.

Q: If an area of a store is reachable only by a flight of steps, is the owner required to add an elevator?
A: Usually no. A public accommodation generally would not be required to remove a barrier to physical access posed by a flight of steps, if removal would require extensive ramping or an elevator. The readily achievable standard does not require barrier removal that requires burdensome expense. Thus, where it is not readily achievable to do so, the ADA would not require a public accommodation to provide access to an area reachable only by a flight of stairs.

Q: Are restaurants required to have menus in Braille?
A: No, not if waiters or other employees are made available to read the menu to a blind customer.

Q: Is a clothing store required to have price tags in Braille?
A: No, not if sales personnel can provide price information orally upon request.

Q: Do businesses need to rearrange furniture and display racks?
A: Possibly. For example, restaurants may need to rearrange tables and department stores may need to adjust their layout of racks and shelves in order to permit access to wheelchair users.

Q: Do businesses need to install elevators?
A: Businesses are not required to retrofit their facilities to install elevators unless such installation is readily achievable, which is unlikely in most cases.

Q: When barrier removal is not readily achievable, what kinds of alternative steps are required by the ADA?
A: Alternatives may include such measures as in-store assistance for removing articles from inaccessible shelves, home delivery of groceries, or coming to the door to receive or return dry cleaning. Only readily achievable alternative steps must be undertaken.