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Supreme Court Throws Out Decision Reviving Disability Bias Lawsuit

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned a lower court’s ruling that had allowed a Florida woman to sue a Maine hotel for failing to disclose accessible features on its reservation website. The woman did not intend to make a reservation at the hotel in question.

Deborah Laufer is visually impaired and uses a wheelchair; the justices unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision to revive her lawsuit against Acheson Hotels LLC. The justices found the case to be moot, so they dismissed it.

Laufer asserted that the corporation was in breach of a federal regulation mandating the inclusion of accessibility information in reservation systems, as per the Americans with Disabilities Act, a seminal civil rights statute passed in 1990, Reuters reported.

Laufer calls herself a “tester” of hotels’ ADA compliance. Disabled people are protected from discrimination by law in various settings, including hotels and other public accommodations, the workplace, public transit, communications, and access to government programs and services.

Typically, plaintiffs must demonstrate concrete harm that could be entitled to a court-ordered remedy to have legal standing to sue in federal court. The Supreme Court had to decide whether Laufer had the right to do so.

Some conservative and liberal justices appeared doubtful that Laufer had standing to sue during the case’s oral arguments in October. The conservative majority on the court is 6-3.

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The hotel and the administration of President Joe Biden reached a mutual agreement that Laufer lacked the legal authority to sue.

Plus, this case was out of the ordinary because the parties involved claimed the original disagreement was irrelevant. Laufer withdrew her lawsuit and the others she had filed after one of her lawyers received discipline from a lower court for unethical behavior in another case.

The Wells, Maine, hotel Coast Village Inn and Cottages, which was at the center of the case, has also updated its website to reflect the new accessibility standards. Although it is now owned by someone else, Acheson was the innkeeper when the lawsuit was being filed.

To reiterate that lower courts are still divided over the legal question, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the Supreme Court on Tuesday, saying that it dismissed Laufer’s case because she willingly dismissed her cases.

“We might exercise our discretion differently in a future case,” wrote Barrett.

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According to Laufer’s 2020 lawsuit, the hotel violated a 2010 Justice Department regulation that mandated the inclusion of accessibility information in reservation systems due to the omissions made by the establishment.

After determining that Laufer lacked standing, a federal judge in Maine dismissed the case. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston brought the case back to life last year.┬áSince conducting her research, Laufer has filed over 600 comparable lawsuits against hotels whose websites omitted information regarding the ADA accessibility of their rooms.┬áThe American Disabilities Act (ADA) “testers” have allegedly stoked a firestorm of discrimination claims against local companies, according to business advocacy groups.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been busy lately.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal from California corrections officials who were seeking immunity from lawsuits that alleged they acted with deliberate indifference, leading to a fatal COVID-19 outbreak at one of the world’s most renowned prisons four years ago.

According to a report from The Associated Press, the nation’s highest court turned down the request without comment.

The lawsuit originated from the relocation of infected inmates in May 2020 from a prison in Southern California to San Quentin. Before the transfer, San Quentin had not reported any cases of infection.

Following the transfer, the coronavirus rapidly spread, infecting 75% of the inmates at the facility located north of San Francisco and resulting in the deaths of 28 inmates and one correctional officer.

“California now faces four lawsuits from the relatives of those who died as well as from inmates and staff who were infected but survived,” the AP noted.

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