Supreme Court Amicus Brief Supports ADA Tester’s Legal Challenge to Hotel Inaccessibility

Civil Rights Organizations File Brief in Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Deborah Laufer Urging Supreme Court to Hold That Civil Rights Tester Has Standing to Sue Over Hotel’s Discrimination Against People with Disabilities

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
August 10, 2023 10:00 am

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WASHINGTON — Nine civil rights organizations have filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold a disabled woman’s lawsuit challenging the lack of accessibility information on a hotel’s website.

The case involves Deborah Laufer, a woman from Florida who uses a wheelchair and has a visual impairment. As a civil rights “tester,” she scours hotel websites looking for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires that hotels disclose sufficient detail on the features of their properties so that people with disabilities can know whether they can safely access them. This includes whether a person in a wheelchair can get in the door to the hotel, or into the room itself; whether the room has an accessible bathroom with grab bars and a roll-in shower; and whether the bed be at the height that it is possible to transfer to.

Laufer sued Acheson Hotels, which operates a small hotel in Maine, after finding that the hotel’s website did not identify accessible rooms, provide an option for booking an accessible room, or include sufficient information on the hotel’s accessibility. Acheson Hotels moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Laufer lacked standing to sue because she had no intention of visiting the hotel. A federal district court agreed, but the decision was reversed by the First Circuit.

The amicus brief, filed by the Legal Defense Fund on behalf of itself, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Maine, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Lambda Legal, and other civil rights organizations, argues that civil rights testers suffer the same dignitary harm as any other victim of discrimination, and that they have the same standing to sue when they personally experience that discrimination.

“Even if a person reasonably expects to experience discrimination in a particular place or at the hands of a particular defendant, they do not ‘manufacture’ discrimination by going to that place or interacting with that defendant. Rather, they in fact experience harm caused by the discriminator,” the brief reads.

The following comments can be attributed as noted:

Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program:

“When a hotel website fails to include its accessibility features, it is essentially posting a sign saying ‘no disabled allowed.’ People with disabilities are tired of reserving ‘accessible’ hotel rooms, and then arriving at 10 p.m. to find that they can’t use the bathroom, or even get onto the bed. The ADA has been in place for more than 30 years. Absent robust federal monitoring and enforcement, civil rights testers fill a critical role in ensuring businesses nationwide are in compliance with the ADA’s accessibility requirements.”

ACLU of Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan:

“Maine businesses must ensure every person can participate fully and safely in public accommodations – no matter their physical abilities – just as longstanding federal law demands. Without adequate government enforcement of the ADA and other laws supporting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities, we must rely on civil rights testers to ensure businesses comply with the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws are designed to not only prevent overt discrimination, but also to allow all people to fully participate in public life, rather than be shut out and stigmatized.”

Karen L. Loewy, Senior Counsel and Director of Constitutional Law Practice, Lambda Legal:

“The harm and stigma of experiencing discrimination are more than a matter of being denied particular services, but amount to an exclusion from full participation in public life—an experience shared by far too many LGBTQ people and people living with HIV. We are proud to stand with our civil rights colleagues in calling on the Court to robustly enforce the very laws designed to ensure that full participation.”

The brief is here:

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