Thousands of alleged disability lawsuits have been filed in California.
Since the pandemic started last year, Orlando Garcia, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, and co-plaintiff Brian Whitaker, a quadriplegic who also uses a wheelchair, have filed thousands of disability lawsuits against California business owners. Plaintiffs alleged violations of the American Disabilities Act (ADA).
In July it became known that the defendants had targeted the business owners of nearly 100 restaurants and shops in San Francisco’s Chinatown alone, and San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin announced a criminal investigation into the matter. The ADA was established by former US President George W. Bush to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to public facilities and are treated equally when applying for a job.
“We have received reports of frivolous lawsuits deliberately targeting small businesses in Chinatown – often owned by monolingual immigrants – that seek to undermine the ADA by blackmailing settlements rather than defending disability rights,” said Boudin. “We will not tolerate exploitation of the Chinese community or any business owners. We know that Chinese traders are no more likely to violate the ADA than any other business owner, and we take these allegations very seriously. We encourage anyone who believes they have been attacked fraudulently to contact our office when we begin our investigation. “
Photo by Patrick De Boeck from Pexels
Mark Rogers, who owns Lola’s Chicken Shack in Alameda, was one of her targets. He said he had received several letters from law firms offering to represent him. It was only when he received more than one that he reached out to find out exactly what was going on and learned that the ramp leading into the store was not level. Rogers said he examined the ramp and found it compliant with ADA regulations. He has since learned that Alameda companies have received similar communications for about 60 years.
Alameda City Manager Eric Levitt said prosecutors are not investigating the case because it is considered a private matter. However, he said, “We are concerned. We want all companies to be ADA compliant. But we also hope that both sides can work together to solve problems. “
Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft added, “We are certainly concerned about access. But we are also concerned that these lawsuits appear to be targeting small businesses that are already having a tough time because of the pandemic and the significant financial consequences for them. ”Ashcraft said she would“ want a mediator to work with both sides, ”saying that companies should have six months to solve all problems.
Scott Johnson, a Sacramento County attorney and quadriplegic, has filed more than 6,250 ADA lawsuits since 2003. Prosecutors charged Johnson in 2019 for allegedly “failing to report his income from the lawsuits,” and the case is pending.
“It’s tough for all kinds of businesses right now,” said Kelly Zhang, 22, from Alameda, who was shocked to hear what was happening in the area. “Many restaurants are barely able to cope with COVID. Things like that can make things worse for them. “
Rogers, who does not plan to reach an agreement, has obtained an attorney for a fee of $ 5,000.
“I guess I’ll have to eat this in the end,” he said. “But you also have to look at what is economical. I still do that. You don’t know what will happen until you get there. “
Alameda companies affected by a number of ADA infringement lawsuits
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
SF District Attorney Examines Legitimacy of Claims Against Chinatown Shopkeepers