Local nightclub under fire for disability policy
Amaris Whitaker, a master’s student in public policy and management at Heinz College, and her attorneys from the Mizner Law firm filed a complaint against the Static nightclub on Feb. 23, alleging the club discriminated against Whitaker due to a disability.
Specifically, Whitaker asserts that the club failed to make reasonable accommodations and then barred her from entering because she needed a chair near the dance floor. Such discrimination has historically been prohibited under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Whitaker has difficulty standing and walking due to a congenital joint difference known as arthrogryposis. “At birth, my joints were quite disfigured,” she said. “I was able to have surgeries and have things restructured so I could at least walk and dress myself.”
Despite her disability, Whitaker enjoys dancing and going out with her friends.
Under the ADA, businesses must make reasonable accommodations to ensure that people with disabilities receive equal levels of service as someone without a disability might receive.
“What’s ‘reasonable’ can vary depending on the situation,” said master’s in public policy and management student Jake Oresick, who is an intern at Mizner Law and a friend of Whitaker. “If it’s too much of a burden to provide accommodations, then it might not be ‘reasonable.’ ”
Oresick gave as an example that while the ADA might require a bookstore to provide a wheelchair ramp, it does not require that the bookstore stock all of its books in braille for people who are blind.
However, Whitaker and Oresick assert that Static faced no such burden in providing a chair. “There was plenty of available of seating on that night [when I asked for a chair]. They were VIP seats, but they were empty,” Whitaker said. “The issue isn’t providing a seat on the dance floor. I just need a seat nearby that I can access.”
“I visited the club to see what it was like,” Oresick said. “There are chairs around, and it shouldn’t cost anything or inconvenience the business terribly to take one chair and move it a little closer to the dance floor.”
Although Whitaker, Oresick, and Mizner Law are alleging violations of civil rights, Static claims that Whitaker was refused admission due to behavioral infractions. “We feel for Ms. Whitaker’s situation with her disability, however that does not give her permission to break rules inside the facility; she is equal to everyone else and must abide by the venue’s policies,” said Static spokesperson Bruno Maroni in an email. “Our company does not discriminate anybody for any reason. Furthermore, our company has hosted numerous charitable events from Light of Life mission to the Wheelchair vets naming a few.”
While the ADA has been interpreted to prohibit refusal of service due to disability, it does not protect those who are denied service due to disorderedly conduct.
Although the club did not elaborate on the specifics of the behavior infractions, Whitaker said that she thinks Maroni is referring to a conversation she had with a manager about a chair. She does not feel that exchange was confrontational. “I believe the conversation was cordial. I did not swear. I was firm, but I did not yell. I was just assertive in the fact that I needed a place to sit,” Whitaker said.
Oresick believes that the club will have trouble substantiating its claim in court. “The fact that they won’t elaborate on her conduct is curious enough in itself,” Oresick said.
Whitaker is currently seeking injunctive relief, and Static has two weeks left to respond to the complaint.