Disney World, segways, and the ADA
For any of my readers who had trouble accessing Alabamaemploymentlawblog this past week, it is hosted by GoDaddy, and as many of you know, GoDaddy had technical problems early this week. Hopefully, the problems have been fixed.
I have been invited to speak at the Employment Law Beyond the Basics seminar, scheduled for October 2 in Birmingham. It is sponsored by Sterling Education Services, and you can get a $50 discount by registering on line and using code EMB50. There are many great speakers, and I hope you can make it.
11th Circuit issues ADA Opinion
In the case of Ault v. Walt Disney World Co., the 11th Circuit examined Walt Disney World’s policy that bans the use of all two-wheeled vehicles in Disney properties. The ban effectively prohibits the use of Segways, and there is no exception for those with disabilities. Three plaintiffs brought a class action suit against Disney alleging that Disney’s policy violates Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act and seeking an injunction directing Disney to permit the use of Segways within Disney properties. A year after the case was filed, the parties entered into a class-wide settlement agreement in which Disney agreed to maintain its ban on Segways, and in return, agreed to develop a four-wheeled, electric-stand up-vehicle (“ESV”) for those with disabilities that require the use of a stand-up mobility device. Upon review of the settlement, the district court granted conditional class certification and preliminarily approved the settlement. Following the district court’s approval, several parties, including The United States Department of Justice and 23 State Attorney Generals (the “Objectors”), filed objections to the settlement. After multiple hearings, the court ultimately granted final class certification and approved the settlement as fair, reasonable, and adequate.
On appeal to the 11th Circuit, the Objectors first argued that the class should not have been certified because the class representatives lacked typicality, a requirement to certify a class. The Objectors contended that the class representatives did not rely on the Segways for mobility to the same extent as other class members. For example, some class members only used a Segway once per week while others relied exclusively on the Segway for any type of mobility. The 11th Circuit rejected this argument holding that the typicality requirement is met if the claims of the class and the class representatives arise from the same event or pattern or practice and are based on the same legal theory and, in this case, all the claims were based on the same Disney policy and liability pursuant to Title III; thus, the Court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying the class.
The Objectors also argued that the district court abused its discretion in finalizing the settlement because the settlement was not “fair, reasonable, and adequate”. Specifically, the Objectors argued that the class was likely to succeed at trial if it was allowed to proceed. The district court heard arguments regarding which party was most likely to prevail at trial and concluded that the class representatives were likely to fail in their claim. The district court based its decision on testimony from Disney’s Chief Safety Officer who testified that Segways would pose a significant safety risk to other guests and that the ESV was a beneficial substitute. The 11th Circuit found that the district court adequately considered the evidence presented at the hearings and found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the settlement.
Special thanks to Andy Saag, one of Sirote’s associates, for the review of the decision.