Northport Village Businesses Sued Over Disability Access

A law firm is suing several businesses in Northport, claiming they are failing to meet the requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act. 

Attorney Darryn G. Solotoff fof Garden City filed the suit in US Eastern District Court on behalf of  Linda Laser, who said she uses a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis, and as a result, could not enter several businesses during a visit to downtown Main Street in August. The paperwork also describes her as  a “tester” for ADA violations. 

The court papers said the case was filed for Laser and “on behalf of all others similarly situated.” 

At least eight businesses, including Gunther’s Tap Room, the Northport Sweet Shop, a bank, beauty supply, hardware store and arts shops have been sued, a downtown businessman said.

The lawsuit alleges “pervasive, ongoing and inexcusable disability discrimination by the defendants”  because of architectural barriers. Narrow doorways, steps, lack of ramps, small bathrooms, entrances and exits and other designs at different businesses are among the problems cited. 

“On or about Aug.4, 2019, an inquiry was made to employees, servants, agents, staff of Defendants, regarding the use of temporary access to the premises and were einformed that none exist.”

Solotoff, reached Thursday, declined to speak about the case while it is still in litigation. 

James Weisman, president of the United Spinal Association and a longtime advocate of disabilities rights in New York City and elsewhere, discussed the case with several Northport business owners last week. As a key contributor to the ADA, he said he found more success and compliance when business owners are contacted first by letter with an explanation of what the potential violations are and what owners can do to comply. 

He has been described as a “superstar” champion of rights for the disabled.

“Lawyers should write a demand letter saying, ‘my client tried to access store and couldn’t. What do you plan to do?’,” Weisman, who is an attorney, said. “Many people respond, ‘Thank you very much, and I’ll do what I can do’. Mom and pops should not bear the brunt of this. They should be cajoled and persuaded and given tax credits, but suing first and asking questions later isn’t a good idea.
“We don’t believe that people in the building environment are enemies,” he said. “We want to win friends and influence people. We want  require stores remove barriers when readily achievable, without great difficulty or great expense.
“We feel as an organization that suing everybody on the block is an offensive practice and does not help the cause of promoting people with disabilities,” he said. “He said, “It leaves a bad taste by suing first and taking a fee and going away,” he said, though he emphasized that businesses have had decades to address access issues  and many have not. 
Referring to Northport, he said that many changes would be difficult to achieve.  His organization has sued several organizations, including municipalities such as New York City and Philadelphia over transportation access and other issues. 
According to the ADA National Network, which advocates for implementation of the ADA’s requirements, businesses are not “grandfathered in,” meaning they do not have protection against meeting the standard because their buildings pre-date the law. The lawsuit also says the defendants are violating state and county laws.

The ADA became law on July 26, 1990, under President George H.W. Bush.  The federal government said the ADA “is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.”

The suit seeks $50,000 from each defendant, attorney’s fees and court costs, and  $500 for each architectural barrier at each business. The plaintiff also seeks unspecified damages, to be determined at trial, for emotional damages. 

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