A federal judge ruled that Taco Bell has violated federal and California laws protecting the disabled from discrimination at its restaurants.
U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland is now deciding what improvements the company must make to its stores in California and how much the fast-food chain must pay the thousands of customers represented in the lawsuit who use wheelchairs and scooters.
The ruling on October 5 came after a trial in June that focused on a Taco Bell in San Pablo, chosen as an example of the restaurants statewide.
Class-Action Lawsuit Filed In December 2002
Hamilton’s ruling stems from a class-action lawsuit disabled customers filed in December 2002. They alleged California stores failed to provide proper handicap parking, wheelchair accessible tables, restrooms and other accommodations for the disabled that are required by state and federal laws.
Taco Bell argued that it had fixed many of the alleged violations over the last nine years. But the judge said the company was still out of compliance in several areas and “is not currently following its own access policies, and has a history of not doing so.” She said Taco Bell managers failed to follow internal policies to inspect the store before it opened each morning to ensure it was in compliance with disability laws.
Lawyers For The Suit Elated
Lawyers for customers who filed the suit were nevertheless elated.
“This is an important milestone,” said Brad Seligman of the nonprofit Impact Fund in Berkeley. “The ruling finds that all of our claims are valid and rejects all of Taco Bell’s defenses.”
The company’s lawyer was unavailable for comment.
Hamilton said testimony by disabled customers and other witnesses at the trial, and a 2004 inspection by a court-appointed expert on disability access, showed that:
– Entry doors were often heavier than federal standards prescribed, making them difficult for wheelchair users to open, and closed too quickly.
– The aisle in which customers waited to give their orders was too narrow for many wheelchairs and scooters. Taco Bell said the disabled could wait on the side and get help from restaurant staff, but Hamilton said the company offered no evidence of any written policy, and disabled witnesses described such an arrangement as “inconvenient, cumbersome and embarrassing.”
– Tables that were supposed to be accessible to the disabled were too low for their knees and legs to fit comfortably.
– Drink lid dispensers were too high for wheelchair users to reach.
– Some restrooms lacked adequate floor space, toilet seats were too low, and soap dispensers were too high.
– Spaces in parking lots weren’t wide enough for wheelchair vans.
That’s a whole lot of violations!
Taco Bell is owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands Inc.
Photo Credit: Andrew T…