Disabled Golfers Sue Marriott To Make Its Courses More Accessible

Nov 4, 2005

Two golfers, who claim that Marriott International, Inc. repeatedly refused their request to provide golf carts that that are modified for the disabled, have filed a class action lawsuit against the hotel giant under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Plaintiffs Richard Thesing, of California, and Lawrence Celano, of Arizona, filed their lawsuit in the Northern District of California, citing Title III of the ADA, which covers public accommodations.
Specifically, they claimed that the defendants discriminated against them “by denying them the opportunity for the full and equal enjoyment of goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of the golf courses owned, operated and/or contracted for usage by the defendants.”
Further, they alleged that “the defendants have failed to provide auxiliary aids and services where the provision of such aids and services does not pose an undue burden.”
Finally, “the defendants have not modified their policies, procedures and practices in accordance with the ADA to ensure equal access for individuals with mobility disabilities.”
The plaintiffs, who are represented by Chavez and Gertler, LLP of Mill Valley, CA, are not seeking monetary damages, but rather injunctive and declaratory relief. They want golf courses owned and operated by Marriott to provide “adaptive” golf carts that will better allow disabled golfers to play the game.
The carts are operated with hand controls. Further, the golfer can rotate and tilt the seat to position themselves to swing and strike the golf ball, while remaining seated or in a semi-standing position.
Currently, about 300 of the golf courses in the U.S. offer golf carts that accommodate the disabled, according to the web site mobilitygolf.com, which Thesing operates.
Thesing adds on his web site that such carts “are economically feasible auxiliary aides,” which allow individuals with mobility disabilities to obtain equal access to golf courses.
The plaintiffs also noted that disabled golfers are not only prevented from participating in a physical activity, but are removed from a venue in which “many business deals are made and many professional and social relationships are formed, nurtured and perpetuated.”
Thesing and Celano claimed they filed the lawsuit only after making repeated attempts to get Marriott to make the concession.
Thesing, who suffered a spinal cord injury in a diving accident at age 18 and must use a wheelchair, has been very active in the cause, serving a four-year term on the U.S. Access Board in 2000. During his tenure, the Board issued a guideline that directed all golf courses open to the public to permit a disabled person to drive a golf cart anyplace on the course, including tees and greens, in order to play golf. While such a directive did not create a direct cost for golf courses, some in the industry viewed it as onerous as they sought to maintain the aesthetic appearance and playability of the golf course.
Thesing, an attorney, is hardly new to such suits. Last year, he represented plaintiff Jerry Pope in his suit against the State of Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. The named defendants in that case were David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (which actually owns the 28 golf courses) and SunBelt Golf Corp. of Birmingham, which manages them.
Pope, a former businessman who was disabled after a 1981 automobile accident, claimed that he sued only after he failed to get a satisfactory response from Bronner about making the courses more accessible.
Bronner claimed publicly that Pope was a “simply a salesman (of adaptive golf carts) trying to beat the system for his own personal gain.”
Bronner also claimed using such golf carts on some of the courses would be dangerous and create a liability because of the hilly terrain. He suggested the carts could tip over.


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