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Yankee Stadium Case Clarifies Ada

Editor's Note: Editors Note: The following article is reprinted from the New York Law Journal, December 8, 1999.

Once a plaintiff in an action brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act shows that removing barriers to access for the disabled can be readily achieved, it is up to the defendant to prove otherwise, a Southern District judge has ruled.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin clarified the pleading standard under the ADA at the request of the New York Yankees and four plaintiffs who sued over access for the disabled at Yankee Stadium.

The suit, Pascuiti v. New York Yankees 98 Civ. 8186, charged that the team has failed to provide accessible wheelchair seating, remove barriers to access such as stairs and railings, and give the disabled the same lines of sight and range of admission prices available to the general public. The decision will be published on Friday.

The Yankees currently provide about 60 seats in two areas for the disabled at the stadium. One definition of the term discrimination in Title III of the ADA, 42 U.S.C. Section 12182(b)(2)(A)(iv), is the failure to remove architectural barriers in existing facilities where such removal is readily achievable. But Judge Scheindlin said, the statute is silent as to who bears the burden of proving that removal is readily achievable, and courts have yet to squarely address the issue.

The dispute centred on the interpretation of subsections (i)through (v) of Section 12182(b)(2)(A).

The Yankees and their co-defendant, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, contended that the unless clauses of subsections (i) through (iii) shed light on Congressional intent in drafting the readily achievable language of subsection (iv).

For example, subsection (i) prevents a public accommodation from imposing or applying eligibility criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability from fully and equally enjoying the goods or facilities offered, unless such criteria can be shown to be necessary for the provision of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations being offered.

While subsections (ii) and (iii) are constructed in the same fashion, the Yankees said, subsection (iv) is not. Under the Yankees argument, the unless clauses create affirmative defences, and therefore the absence of an unless clause in subsection (iv) means the burden to show what is readily achievable remains with the plaintiff throughout.

But the plaintiffs based their argument on the language of subsection (v), which says there is discrimination even where an entity can demonstrate that the removal of a barrier under clause (iv) is not readily achievable, but the entity fails to try alternative methods to ensure access.

Judge Scheindlin agreed with the plaintiffs, saying that statutory history shows that the readily achievable standard is a defence.

Initial Burden

Under her interpretation of the ADA, the plaintiffs will have the initial burden of suggesting a method of barrier removal and proffering evidence that their suggested method meets the statutory definition of readily achievable, she said. Once they meet this burden, she said, the Yankees then bear the ultimate burden of proving that the suggested method of removal is not readily achievable.

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