The Louisiana-based pizza joint Bisbano's Pizza is up against a federal lawsuit for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to KATC News. The report states the plaintiff Liam Doyle tried to discuss the establishment's accessibility issues back in February and sent a few letters, but he never received a response.
The lawsuit cites several problems with the pizza restaurant, namely its lack of:
- Handicapped parking.
- Access to the cellar (a music venue) for those with disabilities.
- A ramp at the entrance.
- ADA-compliant bathrooms.
The report notes that the restaurant was built before the American with Disabilities Act was in effect, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have to comply. As we discussed in "Read This Post, Save $14,000," under Title III of the ADA, most public accommodations (e.g., restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retail stores, etc.) are required to make their premises reasonably accessible to people with disabilities, so long as those changes can be done without much difficulty or expense. In many cases, it's hard to argue that putting in a ramp is too much trouble.
Moreover, ignoring your obligations under the ADA is more than just a legal headache waiting to happen – it's bad for business.
Discrimination (Intentional or Otherwise) Is a Bad Look
According to the US Census Bureau, nearly one in five people in the United States have a disability. That's 56.7 million people – roughly 19 percent of the population. And if your business keeps them from even entering the front door? You're missing opportunities left and right to expand your clientele or customer base.
Perhaps more important is that an unwillingness to accommodate those with disabilities can generate a lot of bad will for your business in the press. If you are sued over ADA violations, that lawsuit may make headlines and give a lot of folks the wrong impression about your business. In 2015, the public has a low tolerance for discrimination and businesses that don't treat everyone fairly.
By contrast, making a name for yourself as an inclusive and community-centric business owner can bolster your public image. To learn more about that, read "ADA Compliance Continues to Plague Some Startups."
ADA Violations Are Difficult to Disprove
While some lawsuits quickly devolve into an endless match of he-said / she-said, ADA noncompliance suits can be slightly more cut and dry. After all, there is physical evidence (or lack thereof, in these cases) of the violation in question. Hard to disprove there is no ramp when there is, in fact, no ramp.
It's true that accessibility renovations cost money, but if you're sued over not having these accommodations, a court may rule that you must make the changes anyway. But instead of just paying for renovations, you're also out several thousand in legal fees, too.
You can learn more about your responsibilities in the US Department of Justice's guide "ADA Update: A Primer For Small Business."
Coverage for ADA Violations May Be Tricky
Some small business insurance policies may offer liability coverage when a third party sues your business over discrimination; others may not. You may recall that Employment Practices Liability Insurance can address legal expenses when employees (past, current, or potential) sue over discriminatory hiring or management practices. However, few of those policies extend that coverage to claims brought by clients or customers.
General Liability Insurance may address ADA lawsuits from third parties if the policy offers personal injury coverage for discrimination and humiliation. Keep in mind:
- Whether or not that coverage applies depends on the policy's language and the specific facts of the case.
- Even if this coverage can pay for legal expenses associated with an ADA suit, it may not cover the cost of renovating your building to make it compliant.
As always, your small business insurance agent can help you figure out what your policy can and can't do. If you are ever sued over ADA violations, check in with your agent as soon as you are served with the papers. They can help you figure out which, if any, of your policies may apply.