On November 9, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division (DOJ) and Hilton Worldwide, Inc. (Hilton) announced that they entered into a 45-page “comprehensive precedent-setting agreement under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) that will make state-of-the-art accessibility changes to approximately 900 hotels nationwide.”
More than the usual removal of architectural barriers, the changes include providing disabled guests the same room choices as other guests, guaranteeing accessible rooms will be available when they have been reserved, and making the central Internet reservation system more accessible. The agreement includes not only Hilton-owned properties, but properties where Hilton is the manager or franchisor.
The lawsuit was filed after the DOJ completed ADA surveys of 13 Hilton-related hotels. Hilton denied all allegations, but cooperated with DOJ investigators throughout the extended investigation and agreed to pay a $50,000 civil penalty.
Background of lawsuit
The Court-approved Consent Decree and Final Judgment resolved the lawsuit United States of America v. Hilton Worldwide, Inc., filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit alleges that Hilton, Conrad Hotels and Resorts, Doubletree, Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn, Hampton Garden Inn, Hilton Grand Vacations, Homewood Suites, the Waldorf Astoria, the Waldorf Astoria Collection and Home2Suites by Hilton have policies, practices and procedures which discriminate against individuals with disabilities.
The lawsuit also alleges that Hilton either owns, manages, or enters into franchise license agreements with the owners of hotels that failed to design and construct facilities built after January 26, 1993, (the date the ADA was fully effective), that were in compliance with the “new construction standards” of the ADA. The DOJ focused on hotels built after the 1993 date because those properties were required to be constructed without any access barriers. This strategy enabled the DOJ to avoid the more complex litigation issues involved in “readily achievable barrier removal” that is required of properties built prior to 1993.
The Complaint alleged that hotels were designed and built without the federally mandated number of accessible guestrooms dispersed among the different categories of available accommodations (suites, deluxe rooms, view rooms, etc.).
Complaints, sweeps, and system-wide investigations
Typically, a DOJ hotel investigation begins with a guest complaint at a particular hotel which is ignored or poorly handled by the owner or operator. Matters commonly escalate if the guest files a formal ADA complaint with the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. All complaints are investigated.
The DOJ may also institute geographical “sweeps” such as the New York Times Square/Theater District investigations that took place several years ago. This comprehensive ADA investigation of 60 Times Square hotels — including boutique hotels and international flag properties — was initiated after a single guest’s complaint. A similar sweep of apartment complexes took place in Louisville, Kentucky.
The DOJ has also initiated a number of system-wide investigations against the nation’s leading hotels and retailers. Over the years, the DOJ has litigated or otherwise negotiated Consent Decrees with such prominent hotel flags as Ramada Ltd. (2010), Days Inns of America, Inc. (1999), Marriott International, Inc., Courtyard Management Corporation (1996), Motel 6 Operating LP (2004 and 2007) and Bass Hotels and Resorts (1998). Continue ›