A federal judge from the District of Maryland has granted in part a motion for summary judgment filed by several hearing-impaired fans of the Washington Redskins football team, meaning that the team is now required to run captioned play-by-play at the stadium as well as show the lyrics of songs played in the stadium during the football game.
The Redskins has already been voluntarily providing the captioned play-by-play.
The plaintiffs, represented by 30-year-old Shane Feldman, believed it was necessary to affirm the policy under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This section provides that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation.” 42 U.S.C. § 12182(a). Further: “A public accommodation shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.” 28 C.F.R. § 36.03(c).
Marc Charmatz, a longtime attorney for the National Association of the Deaf and one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, told the Washington Post that while the Redskins had acted on their own after the lawsuit was filed, it was important to pursue the case to its conclusion.
“The Redskins never wanted to admit any legal responsibility whatsoever, with the result that they could turn on and off the captioning at any time they wanted,” Charmatz said. “So it was necessary to get a ruling that they have a legal requirement to provide captioning.” He further suggested that the ruling could lead to challenges at other sporting venues around the country.
The court held that while the team had made “what appears to be have been reasonable efforts” to accommodate the hearing-impaired, additional steps were needed.
Specifically, the judge held that ADA regulations also require that “music with lyrics played at FedEx Field be effectively communicated to deaf and hard of hearing fans.”
Central to the court’s ruling was its opinion that “the defendants provide more than a football game; they also provide public address announcements, advertisements, music and other aural information to hearing fans at FedEx Field.
“Presumably, Defendants provide this aural information to hearing fans for a reason. This aural information is a good, service, facility, privilege, advantage, or accommodation. Without some form of auxiliary aid or service, Plaintiffs would not have equal access to this information.”
The court added that he would not decide specifically what needed to be done to comply with the ADA, but that he would leave it to a jury in the unlikely event that the case proceeded to trial.
Redskins General Counsel David Donovan told the Post that “We already caption every word spoken in the public address system in the stadium. We’ve just got to figure how to address the issue of lyrics to songs. There isn’t anything else in this decision that we don’t already do.”
Joseph B. Espo, an attorney for the plaintiffs, echoed his fellow plaintiffs’ attorney’s suggested implication of the ruling, claiming that “people who run other sports venues need to take note of this and bring their stadiums into compliance with the law.”
Shane Feldman, et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., et al.; D. Md.; Civil Action No. AW-06-2266; 9/29/08