EXCLUSIVE: Walt Disney Parks and Resorts could be facing a lot more angry families of children with developmental disorders if the plaintiffs in the ongoing American With Disabilities Act lawsuit get their way. In fact, the discrimination suit over access at Disneyland and other theme parks filed back in April against the media giant could nearly triple. “After the initial Complaint was filed, undersigned counsel received an outpouring of phone calls and emails from victims and their families, similarly situated to the 26 existing Plaintiffs,” said lawyers Andy Dogali and Eugene Feldman in one of several filings today in federal court (read it here). “Most of the victims wanted to offer cheers of support and witness assistance; some were in search of counsel. Ultimately, the undersigned counsel agreed to represent many of them.”
The attorneys are requesting to amend the original complaint to add another 69 plaintiffs to the two dozen-plus already involved. Disney, of course, is opposed to this, and the whole matter of the addition likely will be decided during an October 6 hearing before Judge Manuel Real. Of the 69 potential new plaintiffs, 36 are disabled and 33 are “family members who bring individual tort and contract claims.” Presently 16 of the plaintiffs are “allegedly disabled,” according to the proposed order submitted today (read it here), and 10 are family members.
This all started in October when, in an effort to weed out scammers, Disney got rid of the long-standing Guest Assistance Card program and introduced the Disability Access Service at its parks and resorts in Florida and California. Unlike the front-of-the-line and staff-sensitive GAC, the new system proved disruptive and detrimental to the children in question say the plaintiffs. In their initial suit filed in the spring, the guardians of the children claimed they were now disrespected by Disney employees, stuck in long lines to which individuals with conditions like autism and other cognitive impairments were very unsuited – all of which led to “meltdown behaviors” and the children having to leave the park or sometimes being asked to leave. Citing trauma and suffering as well, the 57-count complaint sought damages, injunctive relief and declaratory relief for violations of the ADA and the Unruh Civil Rights Act.
Disney rather bloodlessly rejected the claims in early July and asked for the case to be dismissed. Disney also denied the existence of the so-called “Magic List,” which supposedly grants selected very VIP persons no-wait, no-appointment-necessary ride passes among its privileges. The plaintiffs have suggested a version of the Magic List could provide the solution to their problem. At the end of July, Disney attempted to have the case moved to Florida federal court, where it undoubtedly feels the company will get a more sympathetic reception as one of the state’s largest employers. There has been no decision yet on that request.
Rhonda Trotter and Daniel Paluch of LA firm Kaye Scholer LLP are representing Disney in the case.