Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 7, 2008

Ninth Circuit Says Historic Winery Must Remove Interior Building Barriers for ADA Compliance

A paraplegic visiting a winery with his grandmother encountered discrimination when barriers prevented him from participating fully in the winery experience.  These barriers, confirmed by an expert, included noncompliant doorways, steep slopes on ramps and a wine bar height too high to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.  Prior to the commencement of the litigation, the winery spent almost $25,000 to provide all services on a gazebo that was fully complaint.  The winery was reluctant to make any changes to the actual building due its historic significance. Although barrier removal is not deemed “readily achievable” if it would threaten the historic significance of a building designated as historical, the burden of showing this lies with the building owner.  And, as to the building’s interior, the Court determined that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the owner must make readily achievable accommodations “to the maximum extent feasible.”  Since the Court below did not apply this standard, the 9th Circuit remanded the matter to determine whether alterations to the ramp leading into the building could be readily achievable.  The Circuit Court affirmed the District Court’s holding that the interior must be made ADA compliant, and finding that the gazebo was not a substitute for this requirement since these changes also could be readily achievable.  The Court further noted, “The gazebo places those who could otherwise access the wine-tasting room at a disadvantage that the ADA seeks to remove. Thus, the Gazebo is not an appropriate alternative accommodation.”

 

Molski v. Folet Estates Vineyard and Winery, LLC, 2008 WL 2669696 (7/9/2008 ).

 

The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/ca9/newopinions.nsf/BCE10B41E60A6EF288257481004F1E99/$file/0656385.pdf?openelement


Responses

  1. As the fiance of a paraplegic, it pleases me to see the ADA actually enforced once in a while. The ‘historic’ dodge gets used a lot in Saratoga, where I live, and I am glad to know that the courts look realistically at the acheivability of complying with the ADA while preserving historical structures. I have a hard time imagining a case where the historical character of a legitimately historic building is degraded by widening the bathroom doors to accommodate a wheelchair. I’d go even further and argue that where the historical use of our buildings facilitates the oppression of a protected minority, our use ought to be discontinued. History just isn’t worth that much.


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