AG Announces Enforcement Actions Against Crowne Plaza Edison Hotel for Alleged Disability Discrimination

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Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division on Civil Rights (DCR) announced today that DCR has issued Findings of Probable Cause in two cases involving allegations that the Crowne Plaza Edison hotel violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by failing to provide accessible public restrooms when it hosted a conference for people with spina bifida and other disabilities.

The Findings of Probable Cause announced today arose from two complaints filed by individuals who attended a conference sponsored by the Spina Bifida Resource Network, a non-profit organization that serves and advocates on behalf of persons with spina bifida and other disabilities. DCR found sufficient evidence to support the complainants’ allegations that the Crowne Plaza Edison hotel failed to provide the reasonable accommodations necessary to allow conference attendees, many of whom used wheelchairs, equal access to the hotel’s restrooms.

In particular, DCR’s investigation found that the hotel failed to make available a public wheelchair-accessible restroom for conference attendees, even though hotel staff knew that many of the conference attendees would use wheelchairs.

The LAD prohibits places of public accommodation, including hotels, from discriminating on the basis of disability. Under the LAD, places of public accommodation are required to provide reasonable accommodations necessary to allow persons with disabilities equal access to the full benefits of its services, programs, or activities, unless doing so would be an undue burden on its operations. DCR found that the Crowne Plaza Edison hotel did not provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities and that this denied persons with disabilities equal access to the hotel’s facilities.

“It’s shocking to imagine that a venue hosting a conference for disability advocates would fail to provide an adequate wheelchair-accessible restroom to the attendees. In New Jersey, that’s against the law,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Today’s enforcement actions show that we’ll hold accountable any business that denies persons with disabilities equal access to its facilities.”

“Far too often, people with disabilities face barriers that deny them equal access to the facilities and services provided by hotels, restaurants, and other public places. The facts of these cases serve as a painful reminder of how pervasive those barriers continue to be,” said Sundeep Iyer, Director of the Division on Civil Rights. “The enforcement actions we are announcing today reinforce that employers, housing providers, and places of public accommodation must meet their legal obligations to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to their facilities.”

In its investigation, DCR found that the Crowne Plaza Edison hotel failed to provide attendees at the Spina Bifida Resource Network’s conference with a wheelchair-accessible restroom on the first floor of the hotel, where the conference occurred. Prior to the conference, representatives of the Spina Bifida Resource Network notified hotel staff that the conference would be attended by several dozen people with wheelchairs. On the day of the conference, the lone wheelchair-accessible restroom on the first floor of the hotel was under renovation and unavailable to conference attendees.

DCR found sufficient evidence that the hotel failed to make adequate alternative arrangements to ensure that conference attendees would be able to use a wheelchair-accessible restroom. The hotel initially suggested that conference attendees use an inaccessible restroom on the first floor of the hotel. Complainants alleged, however, that the entrance to the stalls in that bathroom were too narrow for wheelchair users, and DCR’s investigation found sufficient evidence to support the allegation that the bathroom was not accessible to individuals in wheelchairs.

Ultimately, to access a wheelchair-accessible restroom, conference attendees had to be escorted by hotel staff to a limited number of locked private guest rooms on other floors of the hotel that had wheelchair-accessible restrooms. Some of the rooms to which conference attendees were taken were paid for and occupied by current hotel guests. DCR’s investigation found that the use of locked private guest rooms on other floors of the hotel did not afford conference attendees equal access to the hotel’s facilities and that the hotel did not present evidence that providing an accessible public restroom would have placed an undue hardship on its operations.

The issuance of Findings of Probable Cause does not represent a final adjudication of the matters. Rather, it indicates that DCR has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined sufficient evidence exists to support a reasonable suspicion that the LAD has been violated. The matter then goes to conciliation, giving the parties an opportunity to negotiate a voluntary resolution of the matter. If the parties are unable to reach a voluntary resolution, a Deputy Attorney General will be appointed to prosecute the matter either in Superior Court or in the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law.

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