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Hotel Transportation: Hospitality Properties Trust

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Citation

Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, et al. v. Hospitality Properties Trust, 3:15-cv-00221-JST

Issues

CCDC is joining the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and the law firms of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee & Jackson, Lee, P.C. and Campins Benham-Baker, LLP in California litigation against Ashford Hospitality Trust. The issue involves whether a Real Estate Investment Trust (“REIT”), which owns hotels across the country provides shuttle service for patrons with disabilities that meets the accessibility requirements of the ADA. Please read the information posted by CREEC, reproduced below:

On January 15, CREEC filed three federal class action lawsuits in California challenging three hotel owner/operators’ consistent failure to provide accessible options when they choose to provide transportation services to guests. In other words, we’re suing hotel owners who offer free shuttles and vans – to the airport, to local attractions, and just as a means of getting around town – but do not provide accessible vehicles in their fleets (or equivalent transportation) for hotel guests who use wheelchairs for mobility. The hotel owners/operators are RLJ Lodging Trust, Hospitality Properties Trust, and Ashford Hospitality Trust. If those names sound unfamiliar, perhaps you’ll recognize the names Embassy Suites, Hilton, Hyatt Regency, Marriott, Sheraton, Residence Inn, and Hampton Inn, which are just a few of the brands listed in these companies’ portfolios.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires hotels that provide transportation services to guests to offer equivalent accessible transportation for guests who use wheelchairs or scooters. Although this law has been on the books for over 20 years, hundreds of hotels throughout the country do not provide the same transportation for guests who use wheelchairs as they do for guests who do not.

CREEC decided to get involved in this specific ADA issue for a number of reasons. Back in 2014, one of the plaintiffs in the cases first got in touch with us about this prolific problem. The information that hotels often fail to provide accessible shuttles and vans wasn’t exactly breaking news. However, we were curious to find out how widespread the issue was and what kind of work we, as ADA advocates, could do in terms of litigation.

Last May, Amy attended a U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division presentation on Transportation Accessibility and learned much more about public and private transportation and the ADA. After some investigation in California, we found that unequal access to free hotel transportation affects many people who use wheelchairs for mobility – but goes largely uncontested in terms of the law.

Fast Facts about These Cases: The claims (click here to read the RLJ, Hospitality Properties, and Ashford complaints) fall under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. § 12181) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Cal. Civ. Code § 51). The plaintiffs in the Ashford case are Ann Cupolo-Freeman and Kenneth Kilgore; the plaintiffs in the RLJ and Hospitality Properties cases are Cupolo-Freeman, Kilgore, and Ruthee Goldkorn. The plaintiffs are all California residents who use wheelchairs for mobility. There are currently three separate cases – CREEC v. RLJ Lodging Trust,4:15-cv-00224, CREEC v. Hospitality Properties Trust, 3:15-cv-00221, andCREEC v. Ashford Hospitality Trust, 4:15-cv-00216. All of the cases were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California, San Francisco/Oakland Division.

We filed all three cases on January 15, and since then all three have been assigned judges. For more information about these cases and to read the complaints and other filings as they occur, visit the Hotel Transportation Cases page on CREEC’s website.

Status

Plaintiffs’ filed their opening brief on appeal on October 27, 2016. The District Court had ruled that the Plaintiffs have not successfully established a class certification action. On August 9, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled as follows: (1) The Named Plaintiffs established they had standing to assert claims under Title III of the ADA because they were deterred from staying at hotels owned by the REIT because they called and found out the hotels did not provide accessible transportation; and (2) two of the three Ninth Circuit Judges on the panel upheld the District Court’s denial of class certification, based on the notion that Plaintiffs were unable to show commonality because the Court claimed there was no evidence that HPT had done anything to discourage its contractors, the management companies operating the hotels, from complying with the ADA; even though evidence may have existed with respect to the fact that the hotels did, in fact, not have accessible transportation, the fact that there was no common policy by the REIT to its management companies specifically preventing them from complying with these provisions of the ADA defeated commonality. Plaintiffs motioned for a Rehearing in en banc, which the court has denied. That order is posted below.

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