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

Executive Order 13217

Executive Order
Community-based Alternatives for Individuals with Disabilities
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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.

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.

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.

What is Discrimination?

In plain English, to “discriminate” means to distinguish, single out, or make a distinction. In everyday life, when faced with more than one option, we discriminate in arriving at almost every decision we make. But in the context of civil rights law, unlawful discrimination refers to unfair or unequal treatment of an individual (or group) based on certain characteristics, including:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Marital status
  • National origin
  • Race,
  • Religion, and
  • Sexual orientation.

Lawful vs. Unlawful Discrimination

Not all types of discrimination will violate federal and/or state laws that prohibit discrimination. Some types of unequal treatment are perfectly legal, and cannot form the basis for a civil rights case alleging discrimination. The examples below illustrate the difference between lawful and unlawful discrimination.

Example 1: Applicant 1, an owner of two dogs, fills out an application to lease an apartment from Landlord. Upon learning that Applicant 1 is a dog owner, Landlord refuses to lease the apartment to her, because he does not want dogs in his building. Here, Landlord has not committed a civil rights violation by discriminating against Applicant 1 based solely on her status as a pet owner. Landlord is free to reject apartment applicants who own pets.

Example 2: Applicant 2, an African-American man, fills out an application to lease an apartment from Landlord. Upon learning that Applicant 2 is an African-American, Landlord refuses to lease the apartment to him, because he prefers to have Caucasian tenants in his building. Here, Landlord has committed a civil rights violation by discriminating against Applicant 2 based solely on his race. Under federal and state fair housing and anti-discrimination laws, Landlord may not reject apartment applicants because of their race.

Where Can Discrimination Occur?

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination against members of protected groups (identified above) in a number of settings, including:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Government benefits and services
  • Health care services
  • Land use / zoning
  • Lending and credit
  • Public accommodations (Access to buildings and businesses)
  • Transportation
  • Voting

Anti-Discrimination Laws

Most laws prohibiting discrimination, and many legal definitions of “discriminatory” acts, originated at the federal level through either:

  • Federal legislation, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992. Other federal acts (supplemented by court decisions) prohibit discrimination in voting rights, housing, extension of credit, public education, and access to public facilities.

OR

  • Federal court decisions, like the U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which was the impetus for nationwide racial desegregation of public schools. Other Supreme Court cases have shaped the definition of discriminatory acts like sexual harassment, and the legality of anti-discrimination remedies such as affirmative action programs.

Today, most states have anti-discrimination laws of their own which mirror those at the federal level. For example, in the state of Texas, Title 2 Chapter 21 of the Labor Code prohibits employment discrimination. Many of the mandates in this Texas law are based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law making employment discrimination unlawful.

Municipalities within states (such as cities, counties, and towns) can create their own anti-discrimination laws or ordinances, which may or may not resemble the laws of the state itself. For example, a city may pass legislation requiring domestic partner benefits for city employees and their same-sex partners, even though no such law exists at the state level.

Discrimination: Getting a Lawyer’s Help

If you believe you have suffered a civil rights violation such as discrimination, the best place to start is to speak with an experienced Discrimination Attorney. Important decisions related to your case can be complicated — including which laws apply to your situation, and who is responsible for the discrimination and any harm you suffered. A Discrimination Attorney will evaluate all aspects of your case and explain all options available to you, in order to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

Workers with Intellectual Disabilities Abused by Texas-Based Company for Years, EEOC Charges

Men Subjected to Verbal and Physical Harassment, Housed in Substandard Facilities, and Denied Lawful Wages at Iowa Plant, Federal Agency Alleges

DALLAS – Hill Country Farms, doing business as Henry’s Turkey Service (“Henry’s Turkey”) subjected a group of 31 men with intellectual disabilities to severe abuse and discrimination for more than 20 years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged in a lawsuit filed today in Davenport, Iowa. The company is based in Goldthwaite, Texas, but the work and abuse occurred in West Liberty and Atalissa, Iowa.

According to the lawsuit, No. 3:11-cv-0004  CRW-TJS  , filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Henry’s Turkey exploited these workers, whose jobs involved eviscerating turkeys, because their intellectual disabilities made them particularly vulnerable and unaware of the extent to which their legal rights were being denied. The affected men lived in Muscatine County, Iowa, where they worked for 20 years as part of a contract between Henry’s Turkey and West Liberty Foods, an Iowa turkey processing plant.

“This case is a stark reminder of how important it is for the EEOC to ensure that the Americans with Disabilities Act is fully enforced,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien.  “Workers with intellectual disabilities should never be subjected to the demeaning and discriminatory treatment alleged in this case.”

Specifically, the complaint alleges that that the owners and staffers of Henry’s Turkey denied the workers lawful wages, paying them only $65 a month for full-time work; subjected them to abusive verbal and physical harassment; restricted their freedom of movement; and imposed other harsh terms and conditions of employment such as requiring them to live in deplorable and sub-standard living conditions, and failing to provide adequate medical care when needed.

Verbal abuses included frequently referring to the workers as “retarded”, “dumb ass” and “stupid”.  Class members reported acts of physical abuse including hitting, kicking, at least one case of handcuffing, and forcing the disabled workers to carry heavy weights as punishment.  The Henry’s Turkey supervisors, also the workers’ purported caretakers, were often dismissive of complaints of injuries or pain.

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended by the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA), which prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, including intellectual disabilities, in terms and conditions of employment and wages; and bars disability-based harassment.  The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to resolve the matter through conciliation.

“This case illustrates the importance of continued vigorous enforcement of the law in this area.  The victims in this case were subject to a hostile work environment and discriminatory treatment because of their disability,” said P. David Lopez, EEOC General Counsel.  “The EEOC stands ready to litigate such cases, wherever in our nation such employment discrimination might take place, to make victims whole and to bring workplaces into compliance with the ADA.”

The EEOC will seek to recover lost wages for two years prior to the time that the Henry’s Turkey operations were brought to a halt in 2009.  The EEOC seeks amounts consistent with minimum wages and based on pay levels commensurate with the work performed by non-disabled workers occupying the same job positions.  The agency will also seek the award  of compensatory and punitive damages resulting from adverse employment actions and abusive treatment.  During its investigation, the EEOC worked closely with Disability Rights Iowa, an organization that works to advance and protect the rights of people with disabilities and its Executive Director, Sylvia Piper.

“The isolation and exploitation these men suffered for many years, while the fruits of their labor were cruelly consumed by their employer, cannot be explained away by good intentions, nor can the violations of the ADA be excused as antiquated social policy,” said Robert A. Canino, Regional Attorney of the EEOC’s Dallas District Office, which investigated the case and is bringing the lawsuit.  “Our society has come a long way in learning how persons with intellectual disabilities should be fully integrated into the mainstream workplace, without having to compromise their human dignity. The ADA provided us with a law enforcement tool to ensure fair treatment for persons with physical and mental disabilities. We are asking the court to apply this law to the fullest extent possible.”

The lawsuit follows an EEOC Commission meeting held March 15, 2011, that explored the issue of discrimination on the basis of mental disabilities.  On March 24, the EEOC issued its final regulations interpreting the ADAAA, which simplified the determination of who has a “disability” and made it easier for people to establish that they are protected by ADA.

In addition to the EEOC’s ADA claim of disability-based wage discrimination, the U.S. Department of Labor is pursuing a separate minimum wage and overtime suit against Henry’s Turkey under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is set for trial later this year.  Additionally, a Final Agency Decision issued on March 8, 2011, by the Iowa Department of Workforce Development, Division  of Labor, found  Henry’s Turkey and its principals responsible for substantial fines for violations of Iowa’s wage and hour laws.