This week’s case is about Joan, a blind 66-year-old woman who joined a gym, New York Sports Club, with the understanding that she would be provided assistance to use the equipment there.
New York law requires public places like gyms to accommodate those with disabilities. Once the gym was put on notice of the disability both the gym and the disabled individual were required to discuss reasonable accommodations. It is called the “good faith interactive process.” You can read about that in our Law Journal article here: http://pnlawyers-old.econstruolab.com/disability-employment-law-good-faith-interactive-process/.
Here is what happened to Joan:
Joan asked whether the club could accommodate her disability by having a staffer lead her to the elliptical bike — which was one level down from the main floor — as well as program the machine and then guide her back upstairs after about 30 minutes. The club agreed. But after six months the club changed its mind. Joan resigned her membership from the gym and then Joan sued the sports club for discrimination.
The jury heard evidence that Joan joined and that the gym staff explained to her that in order to accommodate her she would need to either call ahead and provide them with a general time frame to ensure that an employee would be available to escort her to and-from her work out, or Joan could avail herself of Medicare that would arrange to have a personal trainer assigned through the Silver Sneakers program. The trial testimony demonstrated that Joan rejected the accommodation to call ahead when she told a staff member that “she wasn’t able to give him a time frame.” Then one day six months later, a fitness director complained to her and said, "I'm dropping everything to help you," and explained they would not be able to accommodate her anymore.
Here is some of the trial testimony from a gym employee:
Q What did you tell your district manager?
A That there was a person who had a disability, and was requesting somebody to always help her up and downstairs, put her on pieces of cardio equipment.
Q And did you do anything as a result of that conversation with the district manager?
A The same exact thing that I offered, I offered her was the exact same thing he did. He said to me, he got back to me after a day or two with the exact same thing; how we can try to have somebody there scheduled for her, but there's nothing more that we can do.
Q Do you recall anything that happened with Mrs. Reveyoso after that point in time?
A No. I just -- I can't recall for certain, but I know she used the club. I'm confident she used the club a handful of times after that, as well.
The jury awarded Joan $30,000. Joan’s attorneys asked the court to award them $240, 889.78 in attorneys' fees and costs. But the court only awarded $98,855 in attorney's fees and $17,917.28 in costs.
Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/pdfs/2018/2018_32939.pdf