Advocates Sue Taco Bell Over Access Problems
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 19, 2005
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA--Five years ago, Taco Bell Corp., the nations' largest Mexican fast food chain, settled a disability discrimination lawsuit by agreeing to modify the 40 restaurants it owned in Colorado to make them more accessible to people with mobility-related disabilities.
Soon after the suit was settled, Tim Fox, the lead disability rights attorney involved in the Colorado case, started hearing complaints about access problems with Taco Bell restaurants in California. So Fox and his wife, fellow attorney Amy Robertson, and a group of Bay Area civil rights lawyers decided it was time to file a legal action against the company for violating the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and California laws.
Four Californians with disabilities are named as plaintiffs in the suit which was granted class action status last year. Each is seeking $4,000 in damages for each visit a user of a wheelchair or motorized scooter to a company-owned Taco Bell restaurant since December 2001. While the suit only applies to restaurants owned by Taco Bell Corp., it is hoped the 500 franchisee-owned Taco Bells in California will take note and make their own accessibility modifications without being sued.
The suit accuses Taco Bell of having store doors which are too heavy for wheelchair users to open, soft-drink stations that are too high for them to access, and metal line dividers -- designed to keep waiting customers in order -- that are too narrow for them to use, forcing wheelchair users to cut into the front of the line.
"It is really, really embarrassing," plaintiff Edward Muegge told the Los Angeles Times of his experience with the line dividers.
"You are standing out and that is something we don't like. We want to just flow through with everyone else."
A Taco Bell spokesperson told the LA Times that the restaurants do comply with the ADA and state accessibility guidelines.
The two sides have agreed to have San Diego accessibility consultant Bob Evans evaluate how each California Taco Bell-owned restaurant complies with more than 600 disability-related structural issues. The parties will then review Evans' reports and discuss what changes might need to be made. Once those issues are resolved, the sides will negotiate for damages.
The case will go to trial next year if they cannot reach an agreement.
"Suit Targets Access for the Disabled at Taco Bell" (Los Angeles Times)
Documents related to "Moeller et al. v. Taco Bell Corp" (Fox & Robertson)