The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in various areas of life, from employment to access to buildings and services. In essence, the ADA aims to ensure that individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities and access as those without disabilities, and that they are not excluded or marginalized due to their disability.
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States heard a case concerning the ADA and a so-called “tester” of hotels. The case involves a man named Andres Gomez, who is blind and whose job involves traveling to different hotels and testing their accessibility for people with disabilities. In 2016, Gomez filed a lawsuit against the Florida-based hotel chain Marriot International, alleging that several of its hotels did not comply with the ADA’s accessibility requirements.
However, Marriot argued that Gomez did not have standing to bring the lawsuit, as he had not actually stayed at the hotels in question, but had only visited them to assess their accessibility. Marriot argued that Gomez was a “tester” or “serial litigant” who only visited hotels to find violations of the ADA, without any real intention of using or patronizing the hotels himself.
The issue of tester standing is not new in ADA cases. The ADA allows private individuals to bring lawsuits against businesses for alleged violations of the law, but those individuals must have suffered or been at risk of suffering discrimination themselves. The question in this case, and others like it, is whether testers who visit businesses solely to assess their compliance with the ADA should be considered aggrieved individuals under the law.
During oral arguments in January 2021, the justices grappled with this question, with some expressing skepticism about the idea that a non-customer could have standing to sue under the ADA. Justice Samuel Alito, for example, suggested that allowing testers to sue could lead to “gotcha” lawsuits, in which businesses are targeted for minor or technical violations of the ADA. Other justices, however, noted that testers could play an important role in enforcing the law and identifying violations that might go unnoticed by the government or individual plaintiffs.
One potential consequence of the Supreme Court’s decision in this case is that it could limit the ability of testers to bring ADA lawsuits in the future. If the Court rules that testers do not have standing to sue, it could make it harder for individuals with disabilities to enforce their rights under the law. On the other hand, if the Court affirms that testers can sue, it could provide a powerful tool for disability advocates to ensure that businesses are complying with the ADA.
Regardless of the outcome of this particular case, it is clear that the ADA continues to play a crucial role in ensuring that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities and access. Since the law was passed in 1990, it has helped to improve accessibility in countless buildings, public spaces, and workplaces across the country. However, much work remains to be done to fully realize the ADA’s vision of a society where everyone has the chance to participate and thrive.
One of the ongoing challenges of the ADA is to ensure that businesses and organizations comply with its requirements. While many businesses are proactive about making their facilities and services accessible, others may be unaware of or resistant to the law’s mandates. This is where testers like Andres Gomez can play a valuable role in identifying and remedying violations of the law.
However, the question of whether testers have standing to sue under the ADA highlights a tension between two important goals of the law. On the one hand, the ADA is intended to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination and provide them with equal opportunities. On the other hand, the ADA is also meant to be a practical and effective law, one that can be enforced by ordinary citizens, not just government regulators or individual plaintiffs.
Finding the right balance between these goals is not always easy, but it is essential if the ADA is to continue to be a force for positive change in the lives of people with disabilities. Ultimately, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case could have far-reaching implications for the law’s effectiveness and its ability to promote equality and accessibility for all.