EXCLUSIVE: Florida’s top civil rights agency has again found that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts discriminated against several children living with autism and their families. In five separate rulings issued May 11, the Florida Commission on Human Relations says that an “unlawful practice occurred” when “Complainant and Complainant’s son were deprived of full enjoyment of the facility.” This comes as an attorney today filed a notice of appeal in a recently tossed federal lawsuit claiming Disney discriminated against families of children with autism and other developmental disorders in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Taking into account the five previous FCHR rulings of February last year against Disney, it bring to 13 the number of occasions the Sunshine State division has found against Florida’s largest employer in the matter of children with the brain development disorder and their loved ones visiting the likes of Walt Disney World. “Complainant was able to demonstrate that Complainant and Complainant’s son were denied a reasonable accommodation in a place of public accommodation for the son’s cognitive disability,” says FCHR executive director Michelle Wilson in one of the correspondences (read it here) that went out last week. “Although Respondent provided an accommodation, it was a blanket accommodation that was supposed to apply to all cognitive disabilities. Respondent failed to consider the son’s specific disability when offering a reasonable accommodation.”
Disney did not respond today to request for comment on that matter. The FCHR ruling permits a Complainant to file a civil suit against a Respondent within a year of the signing of the determination if efforts at relief or concilation fail.
Whether or not it has an impact on future legal proceedings, the response from the FCHR comes less than two weeks after U.S. District Judge Anne Conway granted Disney’s motion for summary judgment and shut down plaintiffs A.L. and D.L.’s case against the media giant’s parks. At the time, the plaintiffs’ Tampa-based lawyer Andy Dogali told Deadline, “the opinion is unsound, and we continue to evaluate our options.” That evaluation was obviously completed as Dogali on Monday put forth paperwork (read it here) to shift the matter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
This all started in the courts in April 2014 in California when 16 children and young adults with autism and other developmental disorders along with their guardians and parents filed ADA violations against Disney Parks and Resorts. The complaints alleged that the House of Mouse’s October 2013 implemented Disability Access Service was completely unsuited to the needs of individuals with such special needs as the plaintiffs. 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.
The initial complaint claimed that the new system resulted in long waits for rides and other entertainment, which often led to “meltdown behaviors” for the children. “We fully comply with all ADA requirements and believe that the legal claims are without merit,” said Disney at the time.
In time, the company got the case moved to more corporate friendly Florida.
Although they took a drubbing from the FCHR last year and had to face dozens of individual lawsuits on the matter detailing specific instances of “horrible experiences” plaintiffs had at the likes of Disney World under the DAS system, the corporation did see the case of A.L. and D.L. dismissed last month. But that isn’t the end and now Disney and its lawyers from the West Palm Beach, L.A. and D.C. offices of Kaye Scholer LLP may have to fight off the families all over again.