As I posted last year, the next wave of Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) Title III litigation was going to focus on hotels and motels and their reservation systems. And, I was right.
These cases are primarily focused on the hotel’s reservation system and how detailed the hotel’s web site describes the ADA accessible rooms and the facility.
As previously explained, these cases are being brought pursuant to 28 CFR 36.302(e) which provides:
(1) Reservations made by places of lodging. A public accommodation that owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of lodging shall, with respect to reservations made by any means, including by telephone, in-person, or through a third party –
(i) Modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure that individuals with disabilities can make reservations for accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as individuals who do not need accessible rooms;
(ii) Identify and describe accessible features in the hotels and guest rooms offered through its reservations service in enough detail to reasonably permit individuals with disabilities to assess independently whether a given hotel or guest room meets his or her accessibility needs;
(iii) Ensure that accessible guest rooms are held for use by individuals with disabilities until all other guest rooms of that type have been rented and the accessible room requested is the only remaining room of that type;
(iv) Reserve, upon request, accessible guest rooms or specific types of guest rooms and ensure that the guest rooms requested are blocked and removed from all reservations systems; and
(v) Guarantee that the specific accessible guest room reserved through its reservations service is held for the reserving customer, regardless of whether a specific room is held in response to reservations made by others.
(2) Exception. The requirements in paragraphs (iii), (iv), and (v) of this section do not apply to reservations for individual guest rooms or other units not owned or substantially controlled by the entity that owns, leases, or operates the overall facility.
(3) Compliance date. The requirements in this section will apply to reservations made on or after March 15, 2012.
These regulations really focus on three parts of the hotel room booking process.
First, if a hotel operates a web site it must describe ADA accessible rooms and the facility in enough detail that the potential customer/visitor can determine if the room and facility are suitable for them. The case law on what level of description is necessary remains in flux. However, the more detail a hotel owner can provide the better. Describe the general facility, including: ADA accessible parking; ramp into the hotel; elevators access, etc. Also describe the parts of the common areas, meeting areas, and event areas that are ADA accessible. Be mindful that ADA accessibility goes beyond mobility/wheelchair issues. Similarly, provide as much detail as possible regarding your ADA accessible hotel rooms, often these details can be included under room descriptions for your ADA accessible rooms. Describe the guest room bathroom, path of travel within the guest room, describe any available aids for those with visual or auditory impairments, etc.
And, if a hotel does not have accessible features or only has limited accessible features due to its age or historic status, the hotel owner should alert potential customers to the fact as well. Advise potential guests that doorways are narrow, that there is no elevator, etc.
Second, make sure your reservation system, online or by telephone, provides guests with the ability to reserve ADA accessible guest rooms during the same hours and in the same manner as individuals who make reservations for non-accessible rooms. See Poschmann v. Coral Reef of Key Biscayne Developers, Inc., 2018 WL 3387679 (S.D. Fla., May 23, 2018). Said another way, if an individual can reserve a regular room on-line via your web site (24 hours a day), an individual who wants to reserve an ADA accessible guest room must be able to reserve an ADA accessible room on-line via your web site 24 hours a day.
Third, an ADA accessible guest room reserved by a guest must be held for the guest that has reserved the ADA accessible guest room.
Here in Florida there are many smaller “mom and pop” hotels that are being targeted by plaintiffs related to these issues. As a result, now is the time to either update your web site and reservation system or consider removing your reservation system from your on-line platform.
Dori K. Stibolt is a partner with the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP. Dori has in-depth experience counseling companies regarding ADA online access and defense of ADA website accessibility cases. Dori also defends and counsels management in labor and employment litigation matters pertaining to wage and overtime claims, discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave/restraint, and whistle-blower claims. You can contact Dori at 561-804-4417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.