Discrimination Suits Are Not Allowed Under Federal Carrier Law, Court Rules
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
November 4, 2002
ATLANTA, GEORGIA--A federal appeals court has determined that people with disabilities cannot sue airlines for discrimination under the 1986 Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) -- a federal law designed to protect against discrimination.
In the past, three different federal circuits had allowed such lawsuits under the ACAA, but last week the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said two Supreme Court decisions last year restricted the rights of individuals to sue in order to enforce federal laws. The Court said that citizens must use the current means available to enforce federal laws. When it comes to airlines, individuals may only file complaints with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The case involved Delta Air Lines and Cynthia Love, a polio survivor from Montgomery, Alabama who uses a wheelchair. On a 1998 flight to Colorado Springs, Love became ill and tried to reach the lavatory. Love said that the passenger plane did not have an accessible call button to page a flight attendant nor did it have attendants trained to help her. As a result, Love's son had to help her to the restroom, which was too small for her and did not allow her privacy.
Love filed suit under the 1991 Americans with Disabilities Act and the ACAA. A lower court ruled that the ADA did not cover airlines, but allowed several of her counts to move forward. The 11th Circuit reversed those portions Thursday and sent the case back to the Alabama court with instructions to dismiss Love's case.
The Department of Transportation has the power to stop discriminatory actions and to fine airlines. It does not, however, have the ability to compensate passengers who claim they have faced discrimination.
"Where does that leave people with disabilities?" asked Sheila Bedi, the lawyer from Georgetown University's Institute for Public Representation who handled the appeal. "With little or no protection."