Feb. 25, 2003 – Two businesses in the territory became defendants in class-action lawsuits recently for their alleged failure to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and several more may follow.
V.I. Advocacy Inc., a watchdog group for the disabled, filed suit in District Court against the Green House Bar and Restaurant on St. Thomas last Thursday. On Monday, the owners of Barren Spot Mall on St. Croix were named in a similar suit.
The advocacy agency's executive director, Amelia Headley LaMont, said neither establishment has facilities accessible to wheelchair-bound patrons.
"Issues of this sort are certainly something that needs to be addressed," LaMont said. She said the problem permeates the territory and the nation.
This is not the first time V.I. Advocacy has gone to court over ADA compliance. In 1997, LaMont said, lawsuits against 27 businesses were filed over an eight-week period.
The objective was to encourage compliance with the federal law, and "it was very successful," she said. What's more, the action had "a ripple affect, because other businesses we didn't sue also came into compliance, as well as some buildings associated with the government."
Since then, however, news business facilities have been constructed with no regard for the federal law, she said.
"ADA was signed in 1990 and took effect in 1992. That's more than 10 years businesses have had to come into compliance," LaMont said.
The Green House has been a fixture on the Charlotte Amalie waterfront for more than 25 years, general manager Bill Lupino said. He said he had no knowledge of the lawsuit, but that the business already has plans to remodel the entire front of the building come September.
Lupino said the new entrance will be wheelchair accessible, as will the restrooms. "That might be done even earlier," he said. "We're in the process of making changes."
Change is all V.I. Advocacy is interested in. The lawsuits seek injunctive relief, requiring that the businesses bring their establishments into ADA compliance. "That is the nature of the case," LaMont said. "The only money awarded would be attorneys' fees."
The federally subsidized, not-for-profit agency was started in 1977 and was formerly known as the Committee on Advocacy for the Developmentally Disabled, LaMont said.
She declined to disclose the names of any other businesses targeted for possible lawsuits. But she said much work remains to be done on behalf of the disabled in the Virgin Islands.
"We are very far behind regarding access to education for children with disabilities here," she said, citing inadequate public transportation as another area of concern.
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