ADA LAWSUIT AGAINST CTA BY PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES GOES TO TRIAL
Federal Court Labels CTA's Most Recent Ploy to Avoid Responsibility as "ludicrous" and "without merit"
CHICAGO (May 10, 2001) - Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge James Holderman rejected the Chicago Transit Authority's attempt to avoid a trial in a lawsuit accusing the CTA of widespread violations of the rights of customers with disabilities. He denied the CTA's Motion for Summary Judgment setting a June 25 trial date on the claims that CTA failed to provide equal access to public transportation for people with disabilities. The lawsuit filed by Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago and nine individuals with disabilities seeks remedies for the CTA's violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The CTA filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that it has no responsibility for its employees' unlawful conduct. Judge Holderman rejected the CTA's legal position finding that it "mis-states the law and is wholly without merit." The CTA also argued that plaintiffs had not presented evidence that the CTA had violated any legally protected interest. Judge Holderman characterized CTA's argument as "ludicrous." The Judge also upheld the right of an organization to bring suit under the ADA, allowing Access Living to proceed as a plaintiff.
"Judge Holderman's decision sends a clear message that the CTA cannot hide behind written policies and procedures and is accountable for the actions of its employees," says Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living, a nonprofit cross-disability organization, which is a center for independent living that works toward the full equality, inclusion and empowerment of all people with disabilities. "Riders with disabilities have suffered professionally and personally from the CTA's neglect of broken elevators and bus lifts, as well as their employees' failure to deploy lifts and gap fillers upon request. We would like to see the money spent on this lawsuit to go instead for providing accessible public transportation for people with disabilities."
In its Motion for Summary Judgment filed in February, the CTA made four arguments: (1) Plaintiffs did not have a legal basis to bring suit against the CTA; (2) Plaintiffs' claims were governed by a one-year statute of limitations; (3) Plaintiffs failed to present evidence of intentional discrimination by the CTA; and (4) Plaintiffs failed to establish their entitlement to affirmative non-monetary relief. In his ruling, Judge Holderman rejected all of these arguments.
"We are gratified that Judge Holderman confirmed our contention that the CTA's legal positions were contrary to legal precedent," says Karen Ward, Senior Counsel for Equip for Equality and one of the attorneys who prepared the response to the CTA's Motion for Summary. "Finally, our clients will have their day in court and the CTA will have to defend its actions before a jury."
The CTA's Motion for Summary Judgment is its second attempt to block trial. On March 12, the U.S. District Court denied the CTA's Motion to Dismiss the complaint, which argued that it should be considered an arm of the State and therefore, entitled to immunity under the 11th Amendment. In its decision, the Court rejected the CTA's attempt to benefit from the recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Garrett v University of Alabama, which held that states are immune from suits for damages in federal court under Title I of the ADA. This was the first test of the Garrett ruling in Illinois.
Anticipating national ramifications, the United States Department of Justice filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief April 17 in the lawsuit against the CTA and in support of plaintiffs. The Department of Justice is the federal agency with primary responsibility for enforcement of Title II of the ADA, including coordination of other federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation, which oversees certain aspects of ADA implementation.
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. Through its extensive self-advocacy program, it assists hundreds of individuals with disabilities and family members in cases involving ADA violations by public entities. Its legal department becomes involved in cases that have the potential for system-wide reform such as the CTA action.
The legal team representing plaintiffs includes Barry C. Taylor, Karen I Ward, Laura J. Miller and John W. Whitcomb from Equip for Equality; Lou Aurichio from Butler, Rubin, Saltarelli & Boyd; and private attorney Kathleen C. Yannias.
For further information, contact Barry Taylor at (312) 341-0022 or TTY (800) 610-2779 or Gary Arnold at Access Living at (312) 253-7000.