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Important Supreme Court Decision on Disability Access Interpretation – Unruh Act Doesn't Require Intentional Discrimination

June 01, 2009

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On June 11, 2009, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in the Del Taco case Munson v. Del Taco, Inc (2009) S162818. In short, it takes away an argument historically made on behalf of businesses, which was that a plaintiff must show intentional discrimination to obtain Unruh Act statutory damages of $4,000. Instead, it was often argued that a defendant's damages were limited under the California Disabled Person Act to $1,000.

While the decision looks unfavorable to business at first blush, it also clarifies/highlights recent amendments too, wherein plaintiffs make a "construction-related accessibility claim." More specifically, it discusses the recent amendments to prevent abusive litigation, such as (a) notice to business that they're not required to pay any money until they're found liable by the court and they may be able to "stay" the action, (b) voluntary inspection procedures by certified access specialists (there are only about 12 in the state), (c) procedures for staying action for 90 to 180 days, (d) procedure for court to consider written settlement offers made and rejected when determining reasonable attorney fees on a construction-related accessibility claim, and (e) most importantly, restricting availability of statutory damages, to action when an accessibility-violation "actually denied the plaintiff full and equal access, that is, only 'if the plaintiff personally encountered the violation on a particular occasion, or was deterred from accessing a place of public accommodation on a particular occasion,'" and further limiting damages to one assessment per occasion of denial, rather than being based on the number of accessibility standards actually violated (and presumably, actually having denied plaintiff full-and-equal access.)

For more information, please contact:

Patrick Glenn

415-995-5047 Direct Phone
415-995-3491 Fax

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