After more than two years and courts from California to Florida, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts today was exonerated in a lawsuit claiming it discriminated against families with children with autism and other developmental disorders in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“The Clerk is directed to enter judgment providing that Plaintiff shall recover nothing on his claims and that Defendant shall recover costs from Plaintiff,” U.S. District Judge Anne Conway ordered on Thursday, granting Disney’s motion for summary judgment and closing plaintiffs A.L. and D.L.’s case.
“Plaintiff was given an opportunity to experience Magic Kingdom in a similar manner as guests that do not need accommodations,” said the Orlando-based Conway today (read it here). “Nondisabled guests visit Magic Kingdom for rides and attractions that most of them have to wait more than an hour to experience,” the Sunshine State-based judge added. “Comparing this to Plaintiff’s experience, DAS (Disability Access Service) and readmission passes allow him access to those same rides in a fraction of the time.” Giving Disney points, Conway concluded, “thus, DAS and readmission passes afford Plaintiff a similar, or better, experience as those not needing them.”
“The opinion is unsound, and we continue to evaluate our options,” the plaintiffs’ Tampa-based lawyer Andy Dogali told Deadline today after the order was issued. The matter was set to go to trial on August 29 – something that won’t happen now regardless if there is an appeal or not.
Back in April 2014, 16 children and young adults with autism and other developmental disorders and their guardians and parents filed ADA violations in federal court in the Golden State alleging that Disney’s October 2013 implemented Disability Access Service was completely unsuited to the needs of individuals with such special needs. The DAS was intended as a replacement for the longstanding Guest Assistance Card program in an effort to halt perceived scams — such as well-heeled patrons hiring disabled individuals to travel around Disneyland and other parks with them so they could get on rides without waiting.
However, the initial complaint claimed that the new system resulted in long waits for ride, which often led to “meltdown behaviors.” The filing also claimed that once-helpful Park and Resorts staff was now inadequate and “robotic” in dealing with such disorders, resulting in various cases of breach of contract and emotional distress. Additionally, the filing said that a supposed secret “Magic List” program, which allows patrons instant entry no appointment rides, could have solve a lot of the problems raised by the DAS.
“We fully comply with all ADA requirements and believe that the legal claims are without merit,” said Disney in response. At the time, the House of Mouse also denied any such Magic List program existed.
Failing to get the embarrassing and potentially massive case tossed, Disney did get it moved to highly favorable Florida as most of the instances in question occurred at facilities in the Sunshine State. More legal wrangling saw Conway decide in November 2014 that the big case would be divided into individual matters
As with the dozens and dozens of other complaints then filed in late 2014, the paperwork by A.L. and D.L. detailed very specific instances of the “horrible experiences” they had at the company’s parks under the new DAS system.
As matters continued in the federal courts, the Florida Commission on Human Relations slammed one of the state’s largest employers in early 2015. “There is reason to believe Respondent denied Complainant’s son the full enjoyment of the establishment because of a disability and a cause finding is recommended,” the civil rights division said in a determination from February last year and made public that March.
Obviously, Conway didn’t see it that way.
Attorneys represented Walt Disney Parks and Resorts from the West Palm Beach, L.A. and Washington D.C. offices of Kaye Scholer LLP.