CTA RIDERS WITH DISABILITIES GAIN EQUAL ACCESS IN SETTLEMENT OF CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT
CTA Commits $15 Million to Remedy Longstanding ADA Violations
CHICAGO (July 17, 2001) - Today, U.S. District Court Judge James Holderman gave preliminary approval to a far-reaching settlement in the lawsuit filed in February 2000 by Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago and nine individuals with disabilities against the Chicago Transit Authority for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The lawsuit, which was amended as a class action on June 19 of this year, sought to end the CTA's longstanding failure to provide equal access to public buses and trains for riders with disabilities. Terms of the settlement, which will entail an expenditure by the CTA of $15 million over five years, will take effect following a fairness hearing at which affected class members who have objections to the terms may testify.
"We are delighted that the CTA is now committed to addressing accessibility problems that have caused so many hardships for people with disabilities for so long," says Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living, a nonprofit cross-disability center for independent living. "This settlement represents major progress in putting both the letter and the spirit of the ADA into practice."
The settlement was reached following two attempts by the CTA to avoid trial. CTA first tried to have the suit dismissed outright, claiming it was not subject to suits under the ADA. Judge Holderman denied CTA's motion to dismiss on March 12. CTA then sought summary judgment claiming that the plaintiffs had produced no evidence of discrimination and that CTA was not responsible for the misconduct of its employees. Recognizing the national ramifications of the case, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a friend-of-the-court brief on April 17 supporting the plaintiffs' position. On May 9, the court rejected CTA's motion and set the case for trial June 25.
"The settlement requires major changes by the CTA in its treatment of customers with disabilities- and it makes the CTA accountable for living up to its promises. The settlement has teeth," says Barry C. Taylor, Equip for Equality's Legal Advocacy Director and one of the attorneys representing plaintiffs. "Perhaps its most important provision is the one that mandates the hiring of an Independent Monitor to oversee and document the CTA's compliance for five years."
Equip for Equality is a nonprofit organization designated by the Governor to administer the federal Protection and Advocacy System for people with physical and mental disabilities in Illinois. Other members of the legal team representing plaintiffs include Karen I. Ward, Laura J. Miller and John W. Whitcomb from Equip for Equality; Louis J. Aurichio from Butler, Rubin, Saltarelli & Boyd; and private attorney Kathleen C. Yannias.
Highlights of the settlement terms addressing the access problems raised in the lawsuit include:
- Installation of audio-visual equipment on buses to announce bus stop information to riders who are blind or deaf.
- Comprehensive rehabilitation of passenger elevators that have been in service for 10 or more years and installation of automatic elevator activators, which prevent elevator breakdown due to extreme weather, on all other hydraulic elevators by the end of 2002.
- Greatly increased manpower and coverage hours for servicing elevators when they break down.
- Information for customers with disabilities about hours when assistance is available at the passenger's boarding and destination rail stations.
- Commitment to allocate $100,000 a year for five years to address accessibility problems with recommendations by the Independent Monitor about how the money is to be used.
- Employment of two full-time customer service controllers (with training input from plaintiff's representatives) to coordinate deployment of gap fillers, arrange backup paratransit when necessary and update the elevator status phone line at least every four hours.
- Upgrade of the "star 1 system" to include prompts for the elevator status line and the control center.
- Maintenance of a centralized database of all ADA-related complaints to be used as guidelines for developing new performance standards.
- Creation of a brochure for people with disabilities with all relevant information for safely and efficiently accessing the system, as well as the addition of disability-related information to its system map.
- Monitoring of ADA-related performance by two full-time performance control specialists in wheelchairs.
- Arranging for alternate transportation for customers with disabilities under certain specified conditions.
"The settlement recognizes that the CTA is responsible for the actions of its employees, something that it resisted through much of the lawsuit. This is another great step forward in ADA compliance," says Aurichio, a partner in the Chicago-based Butler Rubin. "There will now be real corporate accountability for the first time."
Specifically, the settlement requires the CTA to amend its employee disciplinary guidelines to include:
- Failing to deploy a gap filler upon request.
- Passing by a customer with a disability.
- Failing to report broken lifts or elevators.
- Failing to call out stops where required.
- Deploying a lift in inappropriate locations.
In addition, insolence or disrespect to a customer by a CTA employee, a problem faced all too often by people with disabilities, will now be considered among the more serious behavioral violations.
For further information, contact Barry Taylor at (312) 341-0022 or TTY (800) 610-2779, Stephanie Ettelson at (847) 433-4535 or Carrie Spitler at (312) 253-7000 x197 or TTY (312) 253-7002.