Multiple ADA suits seek justice for the disabled
Mellisa Umphenour of Arvada, Colorado, has recently taken action against several businesses that were allegedly in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, by filing lawsuits against them. The lawsuits, all 64 of them, were filed by Umphenour’s attorney James Carr on behalf of her 11-year-old son, who has special needs, multiple disabilities and uses a service dog.
The lawsuits were all filed in the last two months, and are in protest of what Umphenour found to be the discriminatory actions of businesses in Colorado, all of which she has visited with her son. One such lawsuit has been brought against Original Pizza in Broomfield and claims that upon her visit on November 20th 2016, Umphneour found that the pipes under the bathroom sinks lacked protective coverings which could lead to accidental burns for disabled customers. ADA regulations clearly stipulate that these coverings are essential.
There were a considerable amount of similar lawsuits filed by different plaintiffs in Colorado alone last year, and the nationwide total runs into the thousands over the last few years. The lawsuits commonly make allegations about the lack of handicapped-accessible parking, or that items in the customer bathrooms, such as the toilet paper, are ill-placed for use by a disabled person.
These lawsuits are viewed by some experts as necessary in order to grab the attention of businesses and quickly effect change, filed by disabled people or their caretakers in order to protect the rights of fellow disabled customers. Marcia Tewell, a director at the state disabilities council, described the fact that plaintiffs must file ADA lawsuits as ‘sad’, but admits that they can often be ‘the only way’ to incite change.
Others agree that these lawsuits are the most direct way of ensuring compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has been around for 27 years. Businesses large and small have had plenty of time to align their premises and practices with the act’s stipulations, and to make their services safe and welcoming for disabled customers. An attorney for the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition, Kevin Williams, stated that the lawsuits had ‘merit’, and that they helped demand compliance with the ADA.
Mellisa Umphenour is a gubernatorial appointee; she chairs the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council and is in her third year of service. Umphenour is also a registered home health-care worker and has completed a criminal justice degree at Denver’s Metropolitan State University, so naturally she is passionate about protecting the rights of less able members of society. Despite not having the financial resources to prepay court costs, Umphenour is still going ahead with her lawsuits, as a federal judge has assessed her case and chosen to waive the fees, which could total several hundred dollars.
Umphenour’s situation is remarkably similar to that of a disabled resident of Florida, Santiago Abreu, who last year filed a total of 71 lawsuits after visiting Colorado and Denver. The majority of these lawsuits were settled out of court for undisclosed amounts.