Failure to provide an Ounce of ADA Compliance is worth a Pounding by the DOJ
What you can learn from the DOJ’s settlement agreement with Starwood and The Phoenician
The Department of Justice (DOJ) continues to make the hospitality sector a target for enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and The Phoenician are the latest to come to an agreement with the DOJ to make their properties ADA compliant. The settlement agreement was stunning to this ADA lawyer, because of its sheer simplicity and how an industry leader like Starwood could find itself the target of a DOJ investigation over these basic barriers. The compliance areas detailed in the agreement are routine, run-of-the-mill, ADA check-list items that could have been easily identified and corrected by Starwood itself. Instead, Starwood and The Phoenician were dragged through the expense, embarrassment and hassle of a 5-year government investigation. What were they thinking?
First, the DOJ investigation of The Phoenician and Starwood didn’t happen in a vacuum. Here is just a sample of what’s been going on:
- At the recent 2013 National ADA Symposium which I attended, the former chief of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division (the principal enforcement agency for the ADA), noted that the hospitality industry remains a prime focus of the Department’s civil rights investigations.
- The DOJ recently announced that it settled an investigation of the Milford Plaza Hotel, NYC. The hotel’s owner agreed to bring the property into ADA compliance within a brief period of time, thus ending another multi-year investigation.
- In September 2011, the owners of the top 50 Zagat rated restaurants in New York City received a 17-page survey form from the DOJ to determine their compliance with the accessibility requirements of the ADA. Most of the restaurants entered into voluntary compliance agreements, but in October 2012, the DOJ filed lawsuits against three of the restaurants. See DOJ sues 3 of NYC’s top Zagat-rated restaurants for ADA violations.
- In 2010, the DOJ and Hilton Worldwide Inc. entered into a 45-page “comprehensive precedent-setting agreement under the ADA that will make state-of-the art accessibility changes to approximately 900 hotels nationwide.” The agreement includes not only Hilton-owned properties, but properties where Hilton is the manager or franchisor. In addition to the removal of architectural barriers, the agreement specifies changes in reservation policies and addresses website accessibility. See Hilton’s ADA Settlement with the DOJ: Precedent-setting agreement delivers more than removing architectural barriers.
- In January 2009, I reported in the Hotel Law Blog the DOJ’s Times Square Manhattan Theater District “ADA sweep” of nearly 60 hotels. I represented one of those hotels and can tell you that DOJ investigations should be taken very, very seriously. See Is the DOJ’s ADA Compliance Survey Coming to Your City Soon? What to do when you receive the DOJ’s ADA Compliance Review questionnaire.
The DOJ settles 5-year ADA investigation of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Inc. and The Phoenician Hotel and Resort